Researchers in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, June 8, point to growing evidence that suggests racism as well as related stress and anxiety are on the rise following the 2016 election.
The article titled “Health Effects of Dramatic Societal Events — Ramifications of the Recent Presidential Election,” by David William, a Harvard public health professor, and Morgan Medlock, a Boston psychiatrist, examined research of landmark political events such as elections and 9/11, and found that increases in racial tension often followed.
“The presidential candidacy of Donald Trump appeared to bring further to the surface preexisting hostile attitudes toward racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and Muslims,” the authors wrote.
The election of Barack Obama played a foundational role, they said, as research indicates that a third of white Americans expressed being “troubled” by a Black man in the White House.
“Obama’s election also led to a marked increase in racial animosity expressed in social media: there was a proliferation of hate websites and anti-Obama Facebook pages, with the widespread use of historical racial stereotypes that are no longer seen in mainstream media,” the article stated.
By the time of the 2016 presidential campaign, hostility toward racial, ethnic and religious minorities appeared to have reached new levels. The authors cited a national survey of 2,000 elementary and high school teachers, of which half said that many of their students had been “emboldened” to use offensive and bigoted language toward minorities.
Sixty-seven percent of the teachers reported that many of their students expressed fear about what might happen to their families.
“What has happened with the Trump campaign is that it has built on these hostile attitudes that already existed in the Obama era,” Williams told Vox.com.
While there are presently no studies specifically linking increased stress from the 2016 election to health outcomes, Williams said that every two years the U.S. General Social Survey does measure whether areas with higher racial prejudice have unique health outcomes.
“They found people who live in areas that are characterized by higher levels of racial prejudice have higher rates of death,” Williams told the news website. “Other researchers have found the mortality rate from heart disease is higher in these (high-prejudice) areas.”
For example, the New England Journal article pointed to research that found increases in mental health symptoms, such as higher levels of depression and anxiety, among Americans of Middle Eastern origin in the wake of 9/11.
Another study examining birth outcomes among California women of various racial and ethnic groups found only Arab-American women showed a pattern of increased risk of low birth weight or preterm births in the six months after 9/11, compared to the prior six month period.
Not only can hostile environments lead to negative health outcomes, Williams and Medlock found, but so can actual cuts to health and social service programs like those contained in Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which is presently being debated in Washington.
The authors pointed to the many Americans who lost health insurance and were dropped from the food stamps program in the 1980s as a result of President Ronald Reagan’s spending cuts. Negative health effects were soon documented in the increase in women without prenatal care, increase in infant mortality in low-income areas and rise in preventable childhood diseases as well as deteriorating health among adults in poor areas.
As result of these issues, Williams suggested that there is a need for physicians and child psychologists to perform more outreach in schools. Schools, he told Vox.com, should also provide teachers with training on how to respond to students showing stress and anxiety, and work to create a more tolerant environment.