Explore the mental health effects of voting.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Tuesday was an election day, one more before our next major national election in 2024. In this regard, it may provide some clues into how the public is feeling about various issues.
Very much less covered by media and psychiatry is how voting in any election influences mental health. Both the mental health of those who vote and those who do not, as well as the mental health influences of what is decided, is at stake. Put simply, winning issues that one likes brings some happiness, at least temporarily, while the opposite is also true.
The Mental Health Repercussions of Voting
How about just voting in the first place? In general, research indicates that voting is good for you. In fact, those with poor self-rated general health and mental health are less likely to vote. A unique and rare study examined how civic engagement in late adolescence and early adulthood, including voting, relates to mental, physical health, and socioeconomic status in adulthood. One of the results is that voting and volunteering are positively associated with subsequent mental health, though neutral for physical health.1
Voting and Abortion
With the overturn of Roe v Wade, abortion was forecasted to be a major issue in this election and the one a year from now. Tuesday’s results suggested some increasing support for reproductive rights. That should have a positive effect on mental health. Over 50 years of research indicates that having an abortion is not linked to mental health problems, but rather restricting access to safe, legal abortions does cause harm, including more symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.2 Women who are denied desired abortions have worse physical and mental health, as well as worse economic outcomes.
Transgender Rights and Voting
Like abortion, transgender rights have been a political party issue and cut down in some states in recent times, even to the extent of not being able to get necessary and appropriate health care. There is no surprise in assuming that for individuals who are already stigmatized and discriminated against, that these restrictions would further worsen mental health. Tuesday’s voting suggested push back against that strategy. One example is that in Virginia, Danica Roem will become the South’s first transgender state senator, defeating a police detective who supported barring transgender athletes from high school sports.
The Economy and Voting
As would-be President Bill Clinton once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That focus reflects the perennial influence of the economy on voting choices. Until a new study suggested otherwise, an older study concluded that increasing happiness and emotional well-being topped out once a person earned up to $75,000, which was interpreted as allowing for meeting basic needs. However, beyond the inflation factor, new and more sophisticated research suggested that life satisfaction and a sense of well-being continues to rise with increasing income.3 The study did not make any conclusions about whether there was any higher cut-off point.
These associations between voting and mental health indicate that not only is voting associated with better mental health, but that the results of our voting have important mental health repercussions. Naturally, there are other examples that could be examined, such as the wars in Ukraine and Israel that may have direct and rippling out grief and secondary trauma implications. Regardless, a stronger emphasis on getting out the votes crosses party lines as a bipartisan mental health need.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Ballard P, Hoyt L, Pachucki M. Impacts of adolescent and young adult civic engagement on health and socioeconomic status in adulthood. Child Dev. 2019;90(4):1138-1154.
2. Abrams Z. The facts about abortion and mental health. Monitor on Psychology. 2023;53(6):40.
3. Killingsworth MA. Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year. PNAS. 2021;118(4).