Uncertainty is the word that comes to mind when describing the United States’ current state of affairs. There is uncertainty about the presidential election and the country’s future direction, economic struggles for many Americans, race/gender inequality, and a worsening COVID-19 pandemic. There are many things for people to be stressed about, and rightfully so given the magnitude and potential impact of these events on people’s lives. More Americans are reporting anxiety about the election than in previous years. We have seen an increase in gun sales, businesses preparing for violence in their community, and militia members allegedly organizing a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor. With the election looming, we appear to be at a flashpoint.
As a psychiatrist, you are exposed to acts of violence on a fairly regular basis. We understand the fear, hatred, and anxiety that drives these acts all too well. When someone is aggressive and agitated, we use verbal de-escalation to redirect these behaviors. These techniques are not effective in all cases and will only partially mitigate the risk of violence. Helping people find ways to express anger and frustration in a healthy, nonviolent manner will be a major focus regardless of the upcoming election outcome. One way of potentially addressing the risk of post-election violence is for trusted members of the community to speak out against its use.
I am urging all physicians, not just psychiatrists, to speak out against violent, aggressive acts from either side. If we are to move past our differences, it’s essential that an open, non-threatening dialogue be created. We need a safe space to discuss sensitive and emotionally charged topics without risk to our physical health. Tolerance of differing viewpoints is a starting point, but we should aim for acceptance. As physicians serving our patients, we have a duty to denounce violence before and after the election.
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