Mohamed Salia Dukuly
The description and characterisation of the phenomenon I am about to share with you is not a hardcore, proven scientific fact (if there is anything of such). I am simply using an existing established framework within the mental health field to drive my points home. As my sources are anecdotal and an interpretation of recent observations and interactions with Liberians both at home and abroad. However, I trust, they will strike a chord with you – and provoke us all to consider how we can work to bring harmony in our political disagreement.
If you are observant and interested in the mental health and wellbeing of Liberians, you will already be aware of the phenomenon that Liberians at home and abroad are currently experiencing, one that I like to call “Election Stress Disorder” or “ESD”. There were already several stressors affecting the mental health of Liberians. The election process has only intensified the level of stress on people, amplifying the existing stressors. ESD is an acute stress condition that has developed specifically as a result of the current elections process going on in Liberia.
It is reasonable to assert that not everyone experiencing ESD at this moment will need any type of serious intervention. However, if nothing is done about it right now, the condition could get worse during the post-election period. By then it will transform into what I will call Post Election Stress Disorder (PESD). This will require some psychosocial treatment or intervention.
There are two broad groups of people that are at higher risk of experiencing ESD. The first, are those that are close to or are seeking political power, either within the ranks of the current government or the opposition parties. The second are ordinary Liberians who have vested interests in the peace and stability of Liberia but have fixed opinions about who is the most appropriate person to lead Liberia, and are actively ensuring that their fixed opinions prevail.
The pattern is, the more interest you have in the political process of Liberia as described earlier, the greater possibility you will experience some level of ESD. In fact, it is becoming more widespread and pervasive due to the potential controversy around how the election was conducted and the possible call for a runoff election.
ESD can affect all aspects of your being: cognitive, emotional, physical, behavioural, social and spiritual. ESD can cause distorted and fixed-narrow thoughts and affects a person’s ability to think clearly and openly about relevant issues. If you are one of those who does not see any good in others politicians and have a made-up mind about bad guys and good guys, then your cognitive functioning maybe be affected by ESD.
On the other hand, if you are one of those who are increasingly losing hope and trust in the election process and always feeling vulnerable, worthless and having constant fear of victimisation, then you are likely suffering from the emotional impact of ESD.
In many cases, sufferers of ESD have also reported physical signs that include constant tiredness, change in eating and sleeping habits. Exercise does not even show up on their list let alone relaxation time. As a result, they are always experiencing some form of headache, neck, back and chest pain.
Behavioral wise, people experiencing ESD tend to have short or hot temper. They hardly engage in any meaningful interchange without being verbally or intellectually aggressive. Socially, they only display bigotry and parochialism. Spiritually, ESD can cause despair and loss of faith, respect and interest in religious community.
It is not bad to be experiencing one or more ESD signs from time to time. This can be common reaction to the uncommon state of affairs currently taking place in Liberia.
However, if the signs persist or are causing a major disruption in your ability to function normally, then you need to seek help to recover. A far better option is to adopt protective factors against ESD. A key protective factor against ESD is to develop a mental attitude that puts Liberia first. An
attitude that makes you respect the views and aspirations of every Liberian. This attitude can foster the creation of a practical outlook that will be flexible enough to help you embrace the outcomes of the election. Irrespective of whatever such result maybe, as long as it represents the official voice of the voters.
As well-meaning Liberians, we need to focus on fostering protective factors. We do not blame people suffering from ESD but we offer them alternative. And that alternative is for you to model broadmindedness, respect and tolerance towards others with differing political views
In conclusion, I will leave you with the quotation that “if you cannot see even a single noble intention in someone else’s political views, it is most likely you have not understood them completely”.
Mohamed Salia Dukuly
(BA. Ed, MA Social Work)
The author is a psychosocial educator and current leader of the peak body representing Liberian communities in Australia. The views expressed here are done so in his capacity as a private individual. He ca be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org