How election losers can protect their mental health

Mental health

While most politicians go to the ballot with the hope of winning, some are not ready to receive the bad news.

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Juliana Yegon, a first time aspirant for the Chepalungu parliamentary seat, laughs when the Nation asks her whether professional psychological help is an option when an election or nomination outcome is not as expected.

The former high school principal of Moi Siongiroi Girls was the CEC Education in Bomet County before joining politics. She lost in the UDA primaries to Paul Bii, the constituency’s former MP.

“My team and I put up a spirited fight. I am not traumatised, so I don’t think I will need a psychologist,” she told the Nation.

As a first time contestant in what she terms a ‘male dominated’ field, her losing in the primaries has not taken a toll on her mental health; but the anxiety before the primaries hit home.

“Politics is draining; physically and emotionally. I have had fatigue, especially during campaigns but my support base pushed me through. Fear and anxiety kicked in a day to the primaries,” she says.

While most politicians go to the ballot with the hope of winning, some are not ready to receive the bad news.

“I felt disappointed because the results were not a true reflection of what I was expecting but I have now accepted and I will not rest until Chepalungu gets the right leader,” she said.

Eric Mungai joined the highly contested Kiambu gubernatorial seat without any political experience. He also lost in the recent UDA primaries but says he will live to fight another day.

“Politics is something that I love doing and if I were being forced to do it, I’d be fatigued because of the endless campaigns. Ever since the campaign period started, I could only sleep for three or four hours. There is no time to rest,” he told the Nation yesterday.

Just like Juliana, Mungai also lost to Senator Kimani Wamatangi, who will fly the UDA ticket in the upcoming August 9 General Election.

“The night before the D-day brings mixed feelings. You become very anxious because your supporters all depend on you and hope that you will win. You also think of the resources that you have put in and hope that they do not go to waste. A day before the nominations, you are not allowed to campaign and you can’t tell what the ‘ground’ feels like. There is a sense of helplessness but there is really nothing that you can do beyond that which you have done,” he says.

Losing makes it worse. Mungai tells the Nation that his support system from the family has helped, but he does not think any politician would need a psychologist after losing a bid, or even during a heated campaign period.

“We all get into politics to win, the failure to win has its ramifications. I am glad that I have a support system that has held me. I may not need any professional help. Politics itself is a form of therapy because we meet different people during campaigns who have an impact on our lives. That human-human interaction helps a lot,” he says.

While the effect of losing may not hold down the aspirants, their supporters feel the pinch. A video circulating on social media of ODM supporters crying after their aspirants lost in Kisumu central is one such example.

However, experts say that healing after losing a political contest takes the same shape as that of losing a loved one.

Dr Beatrice Maingi says that taking in loss and grief varies from person to person and politicians and their supporters are not immune to such instances.

“There are people who will be more resilient than others; they can take whatever comes their way,” she says.

Dr Maingi explains that professional help is needed when someone is not able to move on and the unexpected outcome affects their daily lives.

“When an aspirant who has lost is stuck, a professional will guide them how to look at the issue affecting their mental health in a different way and help them to move on; this is called cognitive restructuring,” she explains.

“It all takes introspection and observing how long they have been in despair after getting the unpleasant news. As professionals, we will increase their optimism by letting them know that there is a next time and that they can still be influential without being politicians,” she added.

Explaining the seven stages of loss and grief -- shock, anger, the feeling of unfairness, guilt, depression, reconstruction and acceptance, she says that taking long in one stage makes one prone to professional help.

“Most people who are resilient will get to the last stage of acceptance and move on. Politicians and their supporters need to be made aware of this because no one is immune to mental health,” she told the Nation.

A study published by the scientific journal Plos One in January this year concluded that; “Politics is a pervasive and largely unavoidable source of chronic stress that exacted significant health costs for large numbers of American adults between 2017 and 2020.”

Another survey conducted by the American Psychology Association (APA) in 2020 showed that election periods breed stress, regardless of one’s political affiliation and most respondents said that the future of the nation is what makes them think a lot about the outcome.

“Uncertainty is frequently stressful, and some people are better at dealing with uncertainty than others. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios,” said APA in a statement.

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