New research from the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, which will be published in volume 47 of Economics and Human Biology, suggests the 2020 presidential election had a negative impact on mental health.
The Household Pulse Survey (HPS) collected national data on self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, mental-health office visits and prescription drug usage weekly following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 and then every other week from July to December 2021.
Dr. Sankar Mukhopadhyay, professor of economics and director of graduate studies in economics, used data from the HPS to track the impact of the 2020 presidential election on mental health. His research was supported by the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station at the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.
“There was already some evidence from previous papers with smaller convenience samples,” Mukhopadhyay said. “Although no national studies had been done, the HPS was already collecting the data to measure the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.”
Mukhopadhyay found a rise in the number of self-reported symptoms leading up to election season and a subsequent decrease after the election was called. Data for mental health office visits and prescription drug usage followed a similar pattern. The level of anxiety and depression during the peak in November 2020 surpassed the levels reported during the mandatory stay-at-home orders in place in April 2020.
Mukhopadhyay’s research methods considered and ruled out other potential explanatory factors such as a surge in COVID-19 cases, the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine and seasonality.
“Elections are becoming more stressful all the time for the entire population,” Mukhopadhyay said. “It is a universal stressor that affects the entire population, regardless of which candidates or party they support.”