Sleepless nights. Physical illness. Strained relationships. Increased stress levels. Suicidal thoughts.
These aren’t the side effects of some prescription drug. Instead, as a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and published last week noted, these mental and physical health concerns are collateral damage from today’s hyper-partisan fever pitch of politics overload.
At a time when politics has permeated seemingly every facet of our lives, we should closely examine if we’re in fact too invested in our political ideologies. The results certainly indicate that many Americans need to pump the brakes.
Three in 10 surveyed blamed media coverage for their mental health. Two in 10 said differing political views ended friendships. The same figure attributed politics to lost sleep. One in 20 – a figure that would equate to about 10 million people nationwide – reported suicidal thoughts tied to politics.
Just like fans of sports teams, people enjoy seeing their “side” win in politics. But sports have an offseason – one that inevitably begins with a question of “Are you going to the White House?” – unlike politics, as much as a break from its never-ending drone would do everyone some good.
"There are a set of costs associated with politics that haven't been fully thought through or discussed," said Kevin Smith, chair of UNL’s political science department. "But if you took the word ‘politics’ out of it and put ‘vaping’ in, for example, I think people would respond to that and say it’s indicative of a public health problem."
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He’s onto something. When discussing this topic, a member of the Journal Star editorial board noted that a person can’t even buy shoes without politics entering the equation.
It’s really an apt analogy. We’ve come a long ways since Michael Jordan supposedly quipped “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” The shoe brand he’s long repped, Nike, has become a flashpoint for political controversy, engulfing athletes and elected officials – including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts – in recent months alike.
That ongoing struggle embodies some of our nation’s critical problems on this front.
Political discourse is increasingly tribal in nature, demanding orthodoxy over independent reasoning. Social media can become a partisan echo chamber, fueled by blind shares of fabricated stories attempting to pass as news. Clickbait and commentary masquerading as actual news reporting divide us to the point where even inarguable facts are up for debate.
The ability to think critically without the blinders of warring tribes, along with a heightened sense of media literacy, has become of the utmost importance. Finally, remember that there’s more to life than politics.
Recent years have brought increased political engagement – which, on its own, generally demonstrates civic health. But as people assume a more active role in American democracy, they must do so without going overboard.
In a healthy manner, that is.