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22 April 2016

Donald Trump and your mental health

Donald Trump and your mental health

Christine Gilland Robinson is co-ordinator for threads at the Evangelical Alliance.

So, it seems that the impossible is about to happen. With this week's New York primary going decisively Clinton and Trump's way, the race for the US presidency is looking set to simultaneously become one of the most divisive and circus-like in history.

The increasingly polarised perspectives of voting Americans is doing nothing for Christianity, of course. State-side, Christianity and politics uneasily collude, and as various church leaders now begin to align themselves with their favourite nominees, the confusion is only just beginning to set in, which each political party trying to out-virtue-signal the other.

This is not an opinion piece on how neither party gets to claim that God is on their side – although I believe this is true. But we do need to have a faith-filled response with what is going on across the Atlantic. Bewilderment and hand-wringing is not enough.

One of the great areas that I personally have found freedom in – real, God-honouring freedom – is mental and emotional health. True mental health, I believe, is seeing the world and ourselves the way that God sees it – and of course, seeing God accurately as well. Modern psychology can sit well with a faith-filled perspective, and one of the most useful resources I've found in troubled times is cognitive behavioural therapy, which seeks to question whether some of our overwhelming assumptions and emotional responses actually have their basis in reality, or whether they are merely distortions and are in fact "…setting themselves up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

And here's where the American presidential elections come in. When faced with news that troubles us, we need to decide how we're going to think. Some of the most common cognitive distortions that we can encounter when faced with anxiety-provoking situations are listed here.

It's beyond the limits of this post to explore all of them, but as I scanned this list, weighing up where I and many of my friends stand at the moment, my eyes kept returning to number six on the list, catastrophisation: "Thinking in a magnifying or minimising manner is when we exaggerate the importance of negative events and minimize or downplay the importance of positive events… When we think catastrophically we are unable to see any other outcome other than the worse one, however unlikely this result may turn out to be". Hmmm.

Encountering truth often leads me to confession and frankly, to repentance. So I confess that despite my personal preferences, I have no idea what the "best" outcome of the American presidential election would be – because, you know, I'm human and God has wisely not granted humans the gift of omniscience. I confess that I often stray far from the peace of mind and the hope that I'm called to live in, often preferring to live according to presumptions and opinions that do not serve God, others or myself particularly well. And I definitely forget to take captive those errant thoughts, and align them with the truth – which is ultimately, that despite what is going on here on earth, there is a God and He's "still in His heaven" as the Robert Browning poem reminds me.

And while I may struggle to utter the next line of the poem, that "all's right with the world", I can refuse to indulge fears, thoughts and projections of the future which are frankly distortions of the truth.

So when election results horrify, or terrorism threatens, or news stories too heart-breaking to contemplate fill our screens, this is what I pray we would hold on to: "Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Image: CC