Pollution, anxiety, and death: How Trump is poisoning the country and literally making us sick
If you’ve ever said “Donald Trump makes me sick,” it was probably a metaphorical statement. Or was it?
The scrapping of life-saving regulations, the lies and incessant digital braying on Twitter and children confined to detention camps in the name of America. In your name.
What’s it all doing to our minds, bodies and the earth even rich people have to live on?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, just look at some ways the current president may be taking a toll on public health.
In a 2018 Gallup poll, Americans reported more anxiety, depression, and anger than we’ve had in the last 12 years, We have a 20% higher stress rate than most of the 143 countries in the poll. We’re more stressed than Venezuela and Rwanda.
Talkspace, an online therapy website, had triple its usual number of calls after election night and business stayed strong in the months thereafter, including increases in calls from women and minorities. Counselors began seeing patients talking about politics - in therapy - for the first time.
This discontent doesn’t seem surprising, considering that a vast majority of us did not vote for the current president, yet we have to watch this unwanted leader attempt to dismantle things most voters support.
A 2018 paper in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies found a post-2017 election increase in stress-related to sexual orientation rumination including “daily experiences of harassment/discrimination,” and increased depression and anxiety.
The American Psychological Association reports that a 108% increase in calls to the Farmer’s Aid Hotline, which helps American farmers with business concerns, and the DHHS reports that 111 million families, including farm families, live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals.
And not to make light of things but a recent Wall Street Journal story begins with a woman who “is so uneasy about politics that she has needed two dental implants to deal with her teeth-grinding habit,” so your dental health may be just as imperiled as your mental health.
The Hill reports that Elisabeth LaMotte, the founder of the D.C. Counseling and Psychotherapy Center in Washington, D.C. said there is a “collective anxiety,” among her patients concerning the current president’s recklessness. Those who support him feel isolated from friends and family and those who don’t experience “similar behavior to patients who have a parent with a personality disorder.”
“When divisive ideas come from the most powerful office in the country, we, the people, become de facto enablers of those ideas,a heart-wrenching position for the majority of Americans who are actually pretty temperate folks that want to treat others with respect and kindness,” Brian J. Dixon, a psychiatrist in Fort Worth, TX, and CEO of Together Forward, a nonprofit think tank tackling health, wealth, and cultural disparities.
And now we have the unprecedented burden of the current president’s tireless nattering on Twitter.
“Even if you’re not on Twitter, the president’s tweets will reach you,” says psychiatrist Ravi Chandra in Psychology Today, pointing out that a typical de-stressing remedy of avoiding social media isn’t possible when the actual media magnifies the current president’s Twitter feed.
A study from the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that after the current president had anti-Muslim screeds on Twitter hate crimes spiked in counties with more Twitter users.
And the manifesto of the shooter who murdered 22 people in El Paso, TX in August had language that mirrored the current president’s oft-repeated rhetoric about Hispanic “invasion,” “open borders,” and “fake news.” That last one, Lauren Aratani of the Guardian notes in her story on the mass shooting is what Hitler and the Nazis called “Lügenpresse,” “lying press”.
His “style and substance are very invalidating,” Dixon says. “When a powerful figure denigrates people by appearance, race, and right to free speech, it’s traumatic. When he validates things like racism, ideas that our society doesn’t sanction, it tears our social fabric. "
Invalidation is detrimental to people’s mental health “because people begin to feel they don’t matter,” Dixon says. “And since mental health is tied into physical health, you can literally feel social stress in your bones, muscles, and energy level.”
A telling day for Dixon was the day after the election. Dixon, who is African-American, walked through the halls of the hospital where he was working and “not a single white person looked me in the eye.
“I wanted to reach out to them and ask ‘How do you feel about this?’ because there is clearly shame and guilt,” he says.
We all know it’s not always easy to have a political conversation these days without worrying about tempers flaring. Dixon says that using “I feel” statements, Dixon says, “helps to humanize and connect us through a shared human experience rather than through our politics.”
“(Americans) are actually fairly reasonable people when we’re one-on-one,” he says.
Yet the New York Times has counted 598 people, groups, countries, etc., about which the current leader of us reasonable Americans has said things you’d ground your kid for saying.
“To combat the overwhelming compassion fatigue generated by this administration,” Dixon says, some things you can do are registering to vote, disengaging from social media and getting out and walking into an open-air green space at least 20 minutes a day — if you can find one.
As of this writing, there are 85 environmental protection rules meant to guard our health and environment that this administration is trying to undo, listed here by the New York Times.
For example, federal regulations designed to lower pollutants in the air helped dramatically decrease air pollution-related deaths, dropping them 47 percent between 1990-2010, according to a study in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry.
In June the current administration’s EPA relaxed those regulations in regard to coal plants giving states more latitude in regard to requiring “limited efficiency upgrades” at coal-fired power plants.
In a report released by New York University Law Schools State Energy and Environmental Impact Center this rollback of the Obama administration era Clean Power Plan to the proposed new plan would, by 2030, cause “1,630 more incidences of premature deaths, 120,000 additional asthma attacks, and 140,000 missed school days and 48,000 lost work days.”
From the Associated Press: “The EPA move comes despite the agency’s own analysis [emphasis mine] that it would result in the deaths of an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030, owing to additional air pollution.”
For environmental scientists, who “live in a world of wounds most of the time,” and for the public who care about breathing, it’s a confounding time, says Steve Beissinger, professor of conservation biology at the University of California at Berkeley.
This kind of deregulation is a “last gasp attempt” to squeeze every kilowatt out of non-renewable energy “that they can to benefit a few people,” Beissinger says. “It’s going to have tremendous long term costs to our atmosphere and to our climate which we all share.”
It’s exhausting “to fight for things that are common sense public health measures.” says Beissinger.
The General Welfare
It seems like common sense to want a healthier population. Healthy people are more energetic, happy and productive. Public health and people’s ability to afford it was at the heart of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which took effect in 2014.
Last year, though, fewer Americans - 27.5 million of us — did not have health insurance, more than at any time since the ACA’s inception. Health care advocates blame the current administration’s consistent attempts to weaken a law meant to safeguard our health, and by extension, our lives.
It also seems like common sense not to noodle with a law that has worked for the past 130 years, like the “public charge” rule, which says immigrants can access public programs like Medicaid and food stamps if they won’t be long-term dependents of the state.
The current president, who received millions and millions of dollars throughout his life from his successful father thinks people should be more self-sufficient than this. A proposed new rule set to go into effect on October 15, says that if you’re a newcomer going through legal channels to gain citizenship accessing these programs you could be deported or denied a visa.
Doctors representing nearly 600,000 physicians and students signed a joint statement opposing the rule and it is currently the target of eight lawsuits.
Hannah Critchfield writes in the Phoenix New Times that family physician Dr. Natasha Bhuyan predicted a “public health crisis” because people won’t access preventive care — but will likely end up in the emergency room and that’s far more expensive than prevention.
Leighton Ku writing in the Health Affairs Journal blog cites a shocking litany of new estimates of likely losses, to people and to the U.S., like this one: “Diane Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University, estimated that about 1.8 million fewer individuals, many of whom are citizens, would receive SNAP benefits, reducing food assistance payments by $2 billion per year. By itself, this would lower economic activity in the United States by $3.2 billion annually.”
The stress of anti-immigrant rhetoric can affect pregnant women as well. A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that in the nine months after the 2016 election there was a significant increase in preterm births among Latina women living in the U.S., up to 3.5 percent. Preterm births come with problems including a higher risk of death in infancy. Threats of deportation of your friends or family could easily cause stress, one of the causes of pre-term births.
For some babies, some small, some bigger, on the border, there’s the stress being wrenched away from mom and dad in a strange country and left in shameful conditions.
The family separation policy of the current administration ended but they are responsible for it and thousands of children are still separated there in conditions of squalor. There are reports of children suffering from lack of adequate food, hygiene and medical care, filthy conditions, outbreaks of lice and flu - this on top of being alone in a scary new place. Faces of Family Separation, a CBS News documentary talks to families suffered through the nightmare, courtesy of America’s Family Values party.
What could it mean for their future?
Attachment is how babies — anyone under 18 — feel about their parents, Dixon says. Such separation destroys the blueprint for how they will relate to others in the future.
“Taking babies away from their parents disrupts attachment,” Dixon says, and the blueprint is fundamentally changed, leaving them more vulnerable to “drug use, anxiety, depression, suicide,” in the future.
“We, as a society, are going to have to reckon with the fact that we’re willingly and knowingly hurting kids and creating future traumatized adults.”
“Don’t hurt children,” Dixon says. “It’s not that complicated.”
And this is all if they even have a future. Seven children died in U.S. immigration custody - no children had died there in the previous decade. Three died of flu.
So, pollution, anxiety and death? Let’s call it Trumpcare.