President Donald Trump, his administration and their policies are wreaking havoc on the mental health of Seattleites. Several counselors say his election and the effects are often discussed in sessions. They are seeing clients with depression and anxiety, plus a resurgence in issues for people who are victims of trauma, such as sexual assault and neglect. While not totally surprising, it doesn’t make the policies, executive orders and tweets of the commander-in-chief any less painful for vulnerable populations and those around them to deal with.
“Every one of my clients I would say without exception was deeply impacted. Many clients canceled the week of the election after the results came in,” Rian Roberson said. “It was a topic in every session.”
Kimball Hobbs said most of her clients are LGBTQ and/or people of color; many of them are on the edge. When she fills out her paperwork, the first thing she notes is continued anxiety and depression related to election fears and political uncertainty. She started noticing it in January.
Hobbs said her clients have asked, “Does me living in Seattle matter? How much does living in a really liberal state, a really liberal city that says that they’re going to protect immigrants, that says they’re going to protect LGBT people, they’re going to protect people of color. How much is that going to help with an administration that is saying the exact opposite?”
Roberson and Hobbs are part of a team of counselors at Seattle Therapy Alliance (STA) in lower Queen Anne. STA is focused on making weekly counseling more accessible to women, couples and families. It’s a training ground for graduate counseling students in psychotherapy. STA CEO Jacquie Gallaway said they’re seeing an increase in people seeking their services with the election as a prime motivator.
Psychotherapist Elaine Waller-Rose is also seeing a similar trend in her private practice. While she’s seen an increase in services, she noted that a number of factors lead people to seek help. Many clients have talked to her about the Trump administration and his method of governing.
“The biggest thing I heard from, whether it’s my clients or myself or my friends or anybody, was insomnia,” Waller-Rose said. “People weren’t sleeping after the election. Lying awake and pondering all of this and thinking about the implications and how it’d affect them or people they cared about.”
The election of Donald Trump dealt a seismic level blow to the political landscape of America. His reign is in its infancy, but it’s evident 45’s presidency will evoke strong emotions from both sides of the aisle for years if not decades to come.
It’s not just folks in the Pacific Northwest who are having difficulty. A report by the American Psychological Association showed two-thirds of Americans say they are stressed out about the future of the nation including Democrats and Republicans.
With hate crimes on the rise, raids on undocumented immigrants, the Muslim travel ban and threats to health care, many are wondering if they’ll be the next person who is harmed.
“Even people that are not directly targeted are experiencing some of these things on very deep levels,” Waller-Rose said. “I have clients that are school administrators or teachers or things like that and they’re talking about how they’re dealing with this with their kids. When their kids come to school and they’re crying and they’re upset and worried because their mom or dad might be taken away. Just these awful type of things children are having to deal with.”
Waller-Rose has been in practice since 1990. She said the widespread stress she’s seeing is similar to the smaller scale reaction to the Rodney King verdict while she lived in Los Angeles and to Sept. 11.
The Trump administration is in its 10th week, but people often remark that it feels more like 10 years. Also not helping matters is the incessantly churning 24 hour news cycle. One day people from seven Muslim-majority countries can’t enter the U.S. Then a federal judge strikes it down. Fast forward and the ban is back, only to be struck down again in federal court. It’s a merry-go-round of rights restrictions enough to make your head spin.
“People are processing it and there’s something new to process every day,” Waller-Rose said. “It’s almost one of those situations where you have a traumatic event and it’s over then you start to process what happened and deal with it and come to a place of equilibrium or a place where you can hang. If traumatic things keep happening, happening, happening you don’t even get time for that. This is kind of like that I think.”
Along with the ever-changing news cycle is Facebook, the most popular social media platform in the country. A 2016 Pew Research report on social media showed 68 percent of American adults online use Facebook with three-quarters of users visiting the site daily. The social media network also had a problem with fake news articles spreading across the platform like wildfire that ultimately became gaslighting.
“We talk about Facebook more in our sessions than I ever thought would happen. It’s ungluing people,” STA Counselor Krista Demmel said. “We also have to talk about the fake news because that’s making people crazy. They don’t know what to do with the fact that some of their family members are using this fake news to combat what they’re trying to teach them or talk about in conversations around this stuff, and it’s making them feel hopeless. How can we have a conversation if you are calling Black Lives Matter a hate group?”
Jacquie Gallaway sees the current state of the country as an opportunity for mental health professionals to break the silence around race.
“As therapists, a lot of our work is in identity development. Thinking with the client about who they are in their identity in the world and racial identity is part of that for White people,” Gallaway said. “It feels like a really poignant time in our history, as therapists, to get to do racial identity work with our White clients.”
It’s estimated 62 percent of White men and 52 percent of White women voted for Trump. So where does that leave other White people who envisioned a different leader for our country? With an abundance of White guilt.
“People feeling like this helplessness and hopelessness and kind of going into despair. Wanting to do so much and also having the limits of time and power. What kept coming up was they’re used to having their voice heard and change things. And the idea that they couldn’t change this, it really made them feel invisible in a way that they hadn’t experienced before,” Demmel said. “Why did White people vote for Trump and a lot of shame around some of their family members who live outside of Seattle that they voted for Trump just not knowing how to handle that, how to navigate those relationships.”
One strategy Demmel has used for clients experiencing high levels of anxiety is to have them take a step back and take their cues from people of color.
“They know that America is racist,” Demmel said. “They know that we’ve had racist presidents.”
Roberson has worked to help her clients find outlets for their fear and frustration. While challenging, it’s important to her to help them lessen their burden. In response to the pervasive impact of the current political climate, she also started a weekly Women of Color focus group. It’s a space where participants can voice their frustrations.
“Just to reflect on the week, the ever changing news and figure out ways how we can cope and grow and process and help each other through that time,” Roberson said. “I’ve found that to be incredibly healing for them and for myself as well. I feel like I actually have purpose right now.”
The counselors all agree that people who are having difficulty should set boundaries when it comes to news and social media because of the risk of it turning toxic. Physical exercise, having fun and laughter are also part of their prescription for wellness. Waller-Rose warns against isolation and the illusion that you are alone in feelings of distress. She’s keeping our ancestors, people who survived slavery and concentration camps in mind as well.
“It’s doable. They are proof that it’s doable,” Waller-Rose said. “And sometimes I think I just need to remember this is a challenging time and people have always dealt with challenging times. We’re no better than them, no worse than them. We’ve got the potential, too.”