Election Day: Voters in states backing presidential candidate who loses face greater depression risk

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — No matter who wins or loses on Election Day, half of the United States won’t be pleased with the outcome. For the states backing the losing candidate, the fallout may be even worse. A study finds voters who back the nominee who ultimately loses the race to the White House experience more stress and depression in the days following the loss. This is especially true if the rest of their state wins the battle, but loses the electoral war.

The study looked at nearly 500,000 adults and their mental health before and after the 2016 election. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco say residents in states Democrat Hillary Clinton won suffered from an extra half-day of poor mental health over the next month. This is compared to their mental health in the 30 days leading up to President Trump’s victory. Overall, those post-election blues add up to 54.6 million more days of stress and depression for the nearly 110 million residents in the 20 Clinton states.

“Clinicians should consider that elections could cause at least transitory increases in poor mental health and tailor patient care accordingly,” says UCSF’s Dr. Renee Y. Hsia in a university release.

Tough days ahead for some?

The study looked at the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a joint state and federal survey examining mental health. Respondents in the 20 states voting for Clinton said they experienced an average of 3.35 days of “stress, depression and problems with emotion” in October 2016. That number rose to 3.85 days in December 2016.

Voters in the 30 Trump states saw their stress and mental health improve following the election. These voters experienced an average of 3.94 days of poor mental health before voting and only 3.78 days following the upset victory.

For those on the losing side, researchers discovered a two-percent increase in the number of people in Clinton states reporting over 14 days of poor mental health in one month. Study authors warn this is a major red flag for depression.

“It’s possible the mental health worsening in the Clinton states had been exacerbated by the largely unexpected nature of the loss – at least according to pre-election polls,” first author Brandon Yan, a third-year medical student at UCSF suggests.

Predicting election depression

The study finds the final election results in each state could predict the severity of depression risks following the vote. A 10-percent margin of victory in blue states resulted in 0.41 extra days of poor mental health for defeated Democrats. In comparison, a 10-percent or higher margin of victory in red states eased symptoms by 0.41 days.

This poor mental health seemed to carry over into the new year as depression cases in states voting for Clinton rose by 3.2 percent by April 2017. States voting for President Trump weren’t immune to depression however, as rates rose by 2.8 percent during that same time. Researchers attribute some of this to the nation’s opioid crisis.

In 2020, study authors say Trump and Biden voters may be at even higher risk of depression due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The situation is worsened by the pandemic; the usual approaches to depression screening and mental health care may fail to reach those patients who are not seeing their primary care providers,” Hsia says. “The pandemic, as well as the economic downturn, are resulting in more isolation and loneliness. Americans are worried about disease spread, and they have heightened fears about job security, keeping a roof over their heads and ensuring their children are keeping up at school.”

The study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.