Here in the UK we suddenly have two elections (maybe even a third in Scotland) coming up. Local and now UK. And who knows maybe another Independence referendum (aka neverendum).
I idly wondered if elections (apart from the democratic angle) had health effects. The last Independence vote split families and the country. So where did a few clicks find me? Firstly, at The Huffington Post in 2012 and then at the Spectator in 2015.
Conclusion? Good and bad – why not read for yourself. We do rather bring our own learned baggage to the voting process. Overall, better to vote – but it would be good if everybody who could vote did vote. A danger has to be apathy, which we know is not healthy. Don’t we?
“Helping to choose the next leader of this country, voting on vital propositions that affect the people in your community and participating in the democratic process are already reason enough to make your vote count. But, it turns out, there may be some health reasons to do so, too.
That’s right: From mental health to public health to just general well-being, voting has been linked with positive outcomes in several studies.
Socioeconomic inequality in political participation (as measured by voter turnout) is associated with poor self-rated health, independently of both income inequality and state median household income”, Harvard researchers wrote in the study.
There are two two possible explanations. The first is that when fewer poor people vote, there is less public support for programs and policies, such as welfare and job training, which help those with fewer resources. As a result, their health suffers overall. A related explanation is that participation in voting is a form of social capital, a key but sometimes hard-to-define concept in public health.
People who vote could help to lower stress and even ward off future mental health conditions like depression, among people who are at risk for the conditions. Specifically, researcher Lynn Sanders, Ph.D., an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia, told WebMD that, “I think that people who are on the wrong sides of the disadvantage divide, measured according to anything — health, income, quality of community, or job status — those are the people who stand to benefit most.”
People who vote could help to lower stress and even ward off future mental health conditions like depression, among people who are at risk for the conditions, WebMD pointed out. Specifically, researcher Lynn Sanders, Ph.D., an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia, told WebMD that, “I think that people who are on the wrong sides of the disadvantage divide, measured according to anything — health, income, quality of community, or job status — those are the people who stand to benefit most.”
Politicians and activists typically attempt to motivate ordinary citizens to participate in democracy on the basis of moral appeals or attempts to fix a problem. Our results suggest that it might also be worthwhile to highlight the internal rewards citizens can obtain from being politically engaged: A sense of satisfaction, the experience of pleasant emotions and of connection with others, and a feeling of being alive”
“Elections are stressful and this can cause serious health problems – anxiety, obsessive compulsive tendencies and even depression.
In the long term, elevated cortisol can lead to weight gain, diabetes, bone loss and metabolic disorders. As cortisol is a response to adrenaline, it pulls calcium from our bones to divert to our muscles, allowing us to run instantly – useful in evolutionary terms but less helpful when you’re facing a ballot box rather than a share-toothed tiger.
Of course journalists and politicians become totally consumed by elections – especially one as nail-biting as this. But if you focus on something all the time it becomes intrusive. Once a thought becomes an obsession it can make us feel as if we aren’t in charge of our own minds.
Elections are also periods of sustained work and sleepless nights for many (if not all) politicians. John Prescott suffered from bulimia during his time in the shadow cabinet, but it got worse after the ’97 election. Whether this was a trigger or whether it was caused by the stress of office is difficult to know. But having to fight for your beliefs and your ability to implement them can make ‘impulse control disorders’, as they’re now called, spin out of control.
The ‘Post-election Blues’ – a phrase used by the New York Times in the wake of 2008 Presidential election – can attack politically minded people mercilessly, and that includes certain ordinary voters. The end of an election creates a vacuum; after weeks of following a story they are forced to withdraw from the speculation. Their ‘hit’ has been taken away from them.
Voter disappointment itself has been shown to raise levels of stress hormone Cortisol. In a study conducted by Gal Ifergane and Hagit Cohen during the 2011 election in Israel, voters were shown to have elevated cortisol levels at the ballot box. While the study points out that some stress is normal, and helps with decision making, cortisol can also lead to risk-seeking behaviour – perhaps discrediting the idea that voters are more conservative than radical when they vote”