“The worst thing to call somebody is crazy, it’s dismissive”.

In 2006, the Emmy Award-nominated series Inside the Actors Studio offered viewers an opportunity to ask why a comedian decline a $50 million dollar television contract.  Dave Chappelle, who had become arguably the most popular comedians of recent history, answered this and many other questions associated with the struggles of balancing art and business.

What resonates from this ten-year-old segment is not when Chappelle discusses his own struggles in Hollywood, but when he defends other artists who faced the same fierce public scrutiny.  After listing multiple entertainers whose mental and emotional health was being publicly audited, Chappelle made an insightful statement. “The worst thing to call somebody is crazy, it’s dismissive”  stated the actor, “I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.  That’s bulls**t”.

Post-Election Depression and the Problem with Simply “Getting Over It”.

I rewatched this interview because part of the message seems pertinent after the election of United States President Donald Trump.  Some members of our networks are still wrestling with complex emotions triggered by his victory.  Frequent are the social media posts expressing anger, confusion, and trepidation surrounding what this administration represents, or, of larger concern, who this administration will not represent.  Many writers have explored the phenomenon of post-election trauma sweeping our communities and how the consequences have divided homes and sabotaged holidays.

A common response launched by both sides of the aisle is that people suffering from post-election trauma should get over it.  Groups supporting the new administration have attempted to code this message under the guise of a call for reunification of the country.  Opposition groups have used this messaging to push people into a state of action, encouraging the pursuit of increased civic participation.  Regardless of who used the messaging, the fundamental message remains the same: those feeling hopeless are acting irrationally.

The problem with this messaging is that it de-legitimizes the suffering of those we love.  Much like the public criticism of the entertainers Chappelle was defending, flippant responses to a person suffering are dangerous.  For these individuals, “getting over it” communicates that we see their problem as trivial.  The result is that we unknowingly shame people into longer, and more recurrent, depressive states.

“Listening non-judgmentally is important at this stage as it can help the person to feel heard and understood while not feeling judged in any way”.

~ Mental Health First Aid, First Edition.

So what should we be telling these individuals?  Our organization uses a national program known as Mental Health First Aid USA.  We sponsor certification courses in Mental Health First Aid for individuals who want to know how to identify and respond to signs of mental illness.  When it comes to conversations with those in pain, the MHFA Manual’s recommendation is less about talking, and more focused on non-judgemental listening and emotional support.

MHFA describes active listening as an opportunity to “help the person feel heard and understood while not being judged in any way” (Mental Health First Aid USA, p. 26).   Active listening lowers defense mechanisms by creating a safe space, this permits a person to talk freely about their problems or ask for help.  These actions also inform the speaker that you intend to treat the conversation with the level of sensitivity and respect it deserves.  Active listening skills include removing all devices that may detract from the conversation, facing the speaker, and using physical and verbal nods.

Additionally, a listener must provide emotional support during, and after, the conversation.  During the conversation, a listener should convey empathy and genuineness when listening.  This is reinforced through the use of the active listening skills and verbal skills such as tone, use of probing questions, and restating feelings or facts for clarification (p. 27-29).  Emotional support after a conversation can take many forms, and much of its structure depends on how an initial conversation concludes.  One basic example of emotional support is scheduling regular coffee and/or brunch dates.  These meetings can become a regular opportunity to offer emotional support and resources.

Everyone may not be comfortable offering advanced levels of support when someone is in crisis, and that’s okay.  However, we should all feel a sense of responsibility to not promote messages that inflict further harm.  If you know someone who has expressed feelings of anger or helplessness because of our current political climate, do not promote damaging messages.  Listen.  Offer support and, if possible, the appropriate resources that can lead to a path of wellness.  These people are not irrational.  These people are not melodramatic. These people are not crazy.  These are human beings having difficulty processing a distressing event.  Let’s treat their responses with the dignity, respect, and genuine concern they deserve.

Questions:

  1. What messages have you heard promoted in your network been surrounding the current political climate? Do you consider them encouraging or discouraging?
  2. What forms of self care practices have you implemented to take care of yourself in this climate?

Exercise: 

  1. Take 10 minutes and draft an action plan you would use to assist someone who has expressed struggles dealing with post-election trauma.

Works Cited

Beck, J. (2016, November 10). How to Cope With Post-Election Stress. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/how-to-cope-with-post-election-stress/507296/

Mental Health Association of Maryland, Missouri Department of Mental Health, and National Council of Behavioral Health (2013) Mental Health First Aid USA© , Revised First Edition

Tavernise, S., & Seelye, K. Q. (2016, November 15). Political Divide Splits Relationships – and Thanksgiving, Too. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/us/political-divide-splits-relationships-and-thanksgiving-too.html?_r=0

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