After the civic body election results were out in Kerala in December, a candidate who lost the fight in Ernakulam district, fell into a spell of depression. He sought help from a hospital and is recovered now. Around the same time, a youth in Thiruvananthapuram knocked the doors of the psychiatry department of the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital as he felt totally down after the poll results came. He was not a candidate but was actively involved in the campaign for a fellow party man who he was confident of winning, but lost.
Election or political anxiety may not be a terminology which is part of official medical lexicon. However, it's a reality that needs to be addressed, especially in a state like Kerala, known for its intense political activism. The Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam incidents, revealed by medical practitioners, seem to be not strange cases. They are pointers to serious mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression, likely to trouble a large section of people with partisan mentality and ideological obsessions. A more severe instance of politically induced breakdown was reported from Alathur soon after the Lok Sabha election results in 2019 when a boy became gloomy and silent after the candidate he wanted to win failed.
All these incidents call for a restraint among such vulnerable people when the state is set to announce the results of the Assembly elections on May 2.
“Incidents like unexpected and unwelcome results can cause traumatised disorders like sudden loss of ability to speak or walk,” Dr Arun B Nair, psychiatrist, Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, said.
Dr Nair said conflicts triggered by differences in political views and resultant mental health issues have been on the rise of late. He narrated a case of conflict between a man, a staunch CPM supporter, and his son who follows Narendra Modi. “I have seen several such cases of severe conflicts within family due to difference in political views and affiliations. Often during counselling sessions, it is revealed that the trigger of the conflicts were political differences,” he said.
A similar case was reported in a Kochi hospital also. In that incident, the father who supported a particular leader broke the phone of his teenaged son who questioned his father's hero. The doctor came to know about the incident while counselling the boy.
These 'family feuds' could well remind a Keralite of the evergreen satire Sandesham (The Message) and the two warring brothers of the Sathyan Anthikad film. The heated exchanges between the characters Prabhakaran and Prakashan, played by Sreenivasan and Jayaram, still trigger a laughter riot every time the film is played. It's unlikely that Prabhakaran and Prakashan would have realised the need for a counselling way back in early 1990s when discussing mental health was too much of a taboo. The good news is that the new-age Prabhakarans and Prakashans are ready to seek help when in need.
“Counselling is what we usually do in these type of cases. We need to approach politics from a wider perspective than the narrow partisan views. A defeat in election could just mean that a party could not succeed in taking its message to the people no matter how powerful it was,” Dr Nair said, briefing how such cases are handled.
He said youngsters and women are more vulnerable to the breakdowns due to political reasons while seasoned politicians are often unaffected. “In our political system, one becomes a leader braving a lot of rough weather and facing a series of allegations. Their experience makes them prepared to overcome adverse situations,” he said.
Social media fuels anxiety
Political wars happen on social media every second. The kind of comments almost all political topics invite suggest how indoctrinated many are. Discourses on social media can affect one's mental health badly especially during election days, experts say.
“On social media, it's often futile to think that you can argue with someone and change his/her views. If you think, the content on social media are affecting you in a bad way, it's better to keep away from the platforms for sometime, especially during election result days. Often, it's not news but views are being shared on social media as news,” Dr U Vivek, consultant psychiatrist, Renai Medicity, Kochi, said.