Election stress disorder refers to the anxiety or stress that is associated with a political election to such an extent that it tampers with a person’s emotion or mental wellbeing. Though not a known medical diagnosis, its existence and the threats it poses to public health cannot be ignored. The term was first credited to psychologist, Steven Stosny, who had described the 2016 US elections as full of stress and distress. Writing in The Washington Post, he had explained how the 2016 elections took a negative toll on his patients, to the extent that it distorted their personal lives.
Generally speaking, elections have a direct impact on the emotions of not only the contestants but also on their supporters. This is largely because the dynamics of winning and losing leave very long-lasting impressions on the minds of contestants and their followers. In most political elections, the winner takes all, while the loser is left to reflect on his or her loss.
In Africa and especially Nigeria where the political terrain is replete with malpractices, elective positions, whether at the local, state or federal level, are always tied to the influence of money, so that, it is only the affluent or those with affluent sponsors who eventually get into the corridors of power.
Those who cannot muster the financial muscle are often relegated to the dustbin of oblivion. Such persons could fall sick due to failure to actualise their political ambitions, having invested so much money in the process. For such persons, managing election stress disorder becomes very expedient because their mental and emotional states could become compromised easily.
In 2014, there were reports of a Malawian Deputy Local Government Minister, Godfrey Kamanya, who committed suicide after losing parliamentary elections. This example underscores the reality of the impact of election stress on political contestants and even their supporters in Africa, where political office is mostly seen as a means of enrichment or escape from poverty rather than an avenue for selfless service to the community, state or country.
The monetisation of the political electioneering process in Africa and other parts of the world has made the quest for political power a “do-or-die” affair, in which party supporters engage their opponents in bloody altercations, leading to deaths and serious injuries. It is important that psychologists are involved more in the counselling of political aspirants so that the level of desperation they bring into the electoral process is reduced to its lowest ebb. No politician whose real interest is to serve his people would resort to violence and irresponsible behaviour or become depressed when he loses in his bid.
This writer was actively involved in arguments and permutations that trailed the last presidential election in Nigeria, where the contest was primarily between the BATists (supporters of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu) of the All Progressives Congress and the Obidients (supporters of Peter Obi) of the Labour Party. It was a very tensed contest that witnessed a lot of mudslinging and personality attacks amongst the supporters of both contestants. In fact, at some point, the campaigns took the colouration of an ethnic war.
Though this writer was not personally disposed to the candidacy of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he was prepared emotionally and psychologically to live with the eventuality of a BAT victory. The simple antidote to any anticipated feeling of disappointment or depression was in liberality and a philosophical mindset. “Who knows, the man whom we dislike so much may emerge victorious and could be used by God to bring unprecedented prosperity to Nigeria,” I had muted several times.
Today, I remain my normal self; no hard feelings or regrets about the election. And because I am not God, my opinions about a particular political candidate bear no finality and have neither come back to haunt me nor give me sleepless nights.
The point here is that politicians and their supporters must learn to eschew overconfidence, desperation and the propensity to use money rather than popularity as an enabler of their political status. Money politics will always yield bitterness, frustration and depression, especially in situations where a politician spends so much money and ends up losing. Some politicians do not survive such a development. Those who are lucky to do so live with mental health issues for a very long time.
The best panacea to election stress disorder is ensuring a selfless mindset, built on the principle of service to the people and not on personal aggrandisement. Those who borrow money to run for political offices must be reminded that if they fail to win, the moneylenders will still come after them.