Political Depression

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Description: Can a political loss in a participatory democracy lead to psychopathology? While some studies provide support for pathological levels of election-related distress in Liberal Americans, it has also been suggested that the public and professional discourse has increasingly over-generalized concepts of trauma and psychopathology. Here, we examine this debate in the context of the 2016 US presidential election, and investigate whether Liberal (vs. Conservative) Americans exhibited increased levels of depression in response to the Trump presidency. We observe that Liberals report being more depressed when asked directly about the effects of the election; however, more indirect measures show a short-lived or non-existent effect. We examined self-report measures of clinical depression with and without a reference to the election (Studies 1A & 1B), analyzed Twitter discourse and measured users’ levels of depression using a machine-learning-based model (Study 2), conducted time-series analysis of depression-related search behavior on Google (Study 3), examined the proportion of antidepressants consumption in Medicaid (Study 4), and analyzed daily survey data of hundreds of thousands of Americans (Study 5)—and saw that at the aggregate level, empirical data reject the accounts of “Trump Depression”. We discuss possible interpretations for the discrepancies between the direct and indirect measures. The current investigation demonstrates how big-data sources can provide an unprecedented view of the psychological consequences of political events, and sheds light on the complex relation between the political and the personal spheres.

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