Mental Health Providers Help Texans Face Anxiety Over Trump Presidency

In the wake of Donald Trump's surprising presidential win last week, mental health providers across the country have reported seeing a spike in their services. Now, some mental health resources in Texas must try to help clients grapple with fears about what a Trump administration would actually mean for their lives and rights.

“A very high percentage” of people in counseling at the Montrose Center have reported feeling anxiety and fright related to the election, said Chris Kerr, clinical director of the Montrose Center, a nonprofit that serves Houston's LGBT+ community and provides mental health help such as private counseling, support groups and a crisis hotline. He added, “I've had therapists say all of their clients in the first week have come in and talked about the election, and their anxiety or concerns about it.”

Montrose Center staff have coined a name for the condition: “election-induced anxiety.” Some clients have even said they've had suicidal thoughts.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline saw an unprecedented upswing in calls in the early hours of November 9, as it became more and more clear that Donald Trump would win the presidential election, CNN reported. In just one hour, the national hotline dealt with more than 650 calls. Hotlines that specifically aim to provide support to people who identify as LGBT+, like Trans Lifeline and The Trevor Project, also saw huge spikes in calls and texts following the election, Buzzfeed News found.

“We've consistently been busy for quite some time now, so there's no real obvious increase in traffic,” explained Arnea Williams, who handles media for the Montrose Center. Not all Montrose Center clients, by the way, necessarily identify as members of the LGBT+ community. “Yet the election and the list of uncertainties seems to be all some of the community members can talk about.”

“They come from all walks of life, and they list all of the things that they think could be in jeopardy,” Kerr said of clients.“They're worried about their marriage and whether their same-sex marriage would continue to be recognized… They're afraid of [an] increase in hate crimes and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, immigration status, or sexual orientation or gender expression.”

The election was a “trigger” for many clients dealing with past traumas, Kerr said. (LGBT+ individuals are more likely to experience violence from a partner and sexual violence, according to the 2010 CDC study.) When describing how they feel in therapy, “the words that they come to [are], 'It feels like the bullies have won again,' or 'It feels like the abusers have won,''” said Kerr, who oversees the center's mental health services and sees patients himself.

“I never saw this kind of reaction, even in 9/11,” said Pam Love-White, president of the Texas Counseling Association, which represents more than 7,000 mental health counselors across the state. Love-White is a counselor herself at a north Texas community college, and said she's spoken to several students, many of whom are minorities, who worry that they're no longer safe in their country. “It is a fear for their family, a fear for themselves, a fear of feeling like they're not wanted, a fear of being more marginalized, a fear of safety, you know, just a general fear that they are no longer feeling welcome and accepted,” she said.

While Kerr said his staff was prepared to help clients deal with their feelings after the election, no matter how it turned out – as a nonprofit, the Montrose Center is nonpartisan – they were also surprised by the intensity of the reaction to Trump's win. “In hindsight, you'd say, 'Well, no, it makes sense,' but no. I just think since so many people I think in the LGBT community were just surprised, absolutely surprised and shocked,” Kerr said. He added, “They're saying to family or friends, or they're saying to other people in the LGBT community who are telling how they vote[d], saying, 'How could you have done that?' And it feels personal. It feels like, 'By voting, if you voted for Donald Trump, then you were voting against me as an LGBT person or my rights. You were putting my rights out there to possibly be trampled…' I think that personal element surprised us, and the depth of that for clients.”

But not every mental health resource has faced an impact from the election. A spokeswoman for Burke, a company that operates mental health facilities in east Texas, said they had not seen a “noticeable change” in requests for their services after the election. A spokeswoman for The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, which operates a 24-hour crisis hotline for the Harris County area, said the center didn't have information on whether its hotline experienced a spike, or on how many of its hotline calls were election-related. Glenn Urbach, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Houston, pointed out that most Texans expected Trump to carry the state anyways. This might explain why Texas mental health providers may have seen less of a bump.

For people struggling with their feelings after the election, Kerr advised that people stay off any anxiety-inducing social media and news sites, and to instead focus on the positives. “The people who care about you and the groups that you belong to and the things that you do here in Houston, they're still here after the election,” he said. “They're still supportive, they still care about you and they still accept you.”
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Carter is the Houston Press fellow. A Seattle native, she graduated from Northwestern University and also has written for Elle, Los Angeles magazine and Ms. Magazine.
Contact: Carter Sherman