It’s a long way from the Manhattan office of psychoanalyst Sherman Pheiffer to the Cambridge, Mass., practice of psychologist Jaine Darwin. But both are in blue states that voted heavily for John Kerry, and on the day he conceded, they heard plenty of distress about the election.
“My patients were incredulous, depressed, angry, very frightened,” Pheiffer said. “Everyone talked about feeling frightened (about) the future of this country.”
Darwin heard the same kinds of reactions. At the end of the campaign, Massachusetts Democrats “kind of let themselves hope Kerry would pull it out,” she said, so patients felt “the roller coaster had crashed. I think we all had a little post-Red Sox magical thinking.”
And among Kerry campaign volunteers, of course, the loss was still stinging the day after the concession.
“If I happened to be on a tranquilizer or Prozac, I would have to triple my dose,” joked Sam Feldman, a 75-year-old retired businessman who lives on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts but who volunteered for Kerry in Florida.
Elizabeth Marshall, a volunteer at the Centre County Democrats headquarters in Pennsylvania, said people there showed “bereavement, almost. People feel that something they had, which was hope for imminent change, has been taken from them.”
Better moods ahead
The good news, mental health experts say, is that most Kerry supporters will get over their disappointment on their own. In fact, maybe sooner than they think.
“Right now you’ve got them at the depths of their despair,” said Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist who has studied voters’ emotional reaction to elections. “They’re not going to feel worse in a week. They’re going to feel better.”
In fact, Gilbert said, his work has shown that voters get over their election-day disappointments faster than they predict they will.
“They don’t think they’ll be over it in a month, but they will be,” he said.
Even now, Pheiffer, Darwin and other mental health professionals said they weren’t getting any new patients because of the Kerry defeat. And Dr. David Rissmiller, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, said there’s been no election-related jump in calls at two New Jersey crisis centers he’s familiar with.
Sadness, anxiety and concern
Temporary sadness, anxiety and concern about the future are understandable responses among Kerry supporters, said Dr. Charles Goodstein, a psychiatrist at the New York University Medical Center.
So when is it time to call a mental health professional? “When something goes on longer than you’re comfortable with, then talk to somebody,” Darwin advised. “You don’t have to have major depression to talk to somebody.”
Healthy reactions to post-election disappointment include talking about it with others and becoming or remaining politically active, experts said.
“I think it’s important to give yourself a little bit of time to grieve,” said Mary McClanahan, a psychologist in State College, Pa., who volunteered along with Marshall at the local county Democratic headquarters.
She described herself as “incredibly disappointed” but also galvanized.
Her fellow volunteers felt the same way, she said. And for both civic and psychological reasons, she said, such people should re-invest that energy in politics.
“Whenever we suffer a disappointment, and there’s a chance to have a future success experience and we don’t take advantage of that, it leaves people with greater regrets in the long run,” she said.