Post-election depression: A psychological hazard waiting to happen in Lebanon
Welcome to The New Arab’s coverage of Lebanon’s General Election 2022 held on May 15, 2022. Follow live updates, results, analyses, and opinion in our special hub here.
In the days leading up to the elections, Sarah Mohsen*, 22, told The New Arab that her anxiety is becoming unbearable. This comes as a shock to the university student, who, until recently, has upheld an indifferent attitude towards Lebanese politics.
"I thoroughly believed that the elections would not affect me. It wasn't until these last two weeks, that I began to notice how critical this fight is. So when it finally hit me, my stress levels shot through the roof," Mohsen said.
Lebanon's 2022 parliamentary elections concluded for expats on May 6 and 8, with an auspicious turnout of opposition enthusiasts.
Lebanese residents, on the other hand, will vote on May 15. This electoral round comes after the country has been hit with one of the world's worst economic crises and the infamous August 4 port explosion, which followed the series of protests during the October 17 revolution in 2019.
"The term, Post-elections depression (PED) or Post-elections anxiety (PEA), first came into popular usage in 2016, after Republican candidate Donald Trump won the United States Presidential elections"
Joseph El-Khoury, president of the Lebanese Psychiatry society, considers this electoral battle an embodiment of the cumulative efforts of the 2019 protesters.
Therefore, a loss for the opposition could be viewed, by the establishment, as the end of the October 17 era. With a lot at stake and a lot to hope for, psychological experts warn against the psychological and emotional harm this year's elections could reflect on members and supporters of the opposition – especially if expectations of victory are not met.
At the time, researchers found that American citizens who witnessed the unexpected loss of their candidate were more at risk for worsening mental health. El-Khoury told The New Arab this also applies to the hopeful Lebanese electorate witnessing the unprecedented rise of a seemingly competitive opposition.
"It is alarming to hear candidates polarising the public with the 'it's now or never' rhetoric. This might work temporarily to encourage people to vote but we must focus on moderating expectations," El-Khoury said.
He explains that during adjustment periods following big events such as elections – which are often marred with high expectations and unforeseeable outcomes – PED can manifest, as early as the day after. Moreover, PED symptoms like low mood, loss of interest, poor concentration, lack of motivation, disruption of appetite, and avoidance of similar events in the future, closely resemble diagnosed clinical depression.
For Ralph Hroaui, a 26-year-old member of the Uniteddiasporalb network and campaigner for one of the opposition lists, this electoral round is Lebanon's best shot at a positive change in the foreseeable future.
"If we end up with a drastic loss, it could be over for the country – at least, until we are able to regroup and start building all over again for the next elections," Hraoui told The New Arab.
Similarly, El-Khoury worries that a significant defeat could require up to ten years of reformative work, leaving an entire generation exhausted and disillusioned.
"Many opposition supporters were not naturally inclined to politics, so it was never their top priority to dedicate this much time and effort to activism and political work. Once the opposition emerged, people looked up to these new faces to seek hope and motivation," he said.
Hraoui is a prime example of such an electorate. The campaigner delegates the majority of his time to the elections; researching, networking, handling social media, and fighting anti-opposition propaganda.
"I was part of the October 17 revolution and then I was forced to leave for France due to a lack of job opportunities and a worsening economy. So I can't fathom the possibility that all my pain and effort could simply just go to waste," Hraoui said.
Instead, he clung to his hopes of seeing the opposition win the maximum amount of seats, "otherwise, there's no need to waste my time on a foredoomed campaign," he adds.
Although Hraoui tries to accept the worst-case scenario of winning little to no seats, he says he found no avail in considering the possible predicament a reality and even deemed it demotivating, "no one would be willing to fight for the worst-case scenario," the campaigner said.
From his end, El-Khoury says that it was the candidates' responsibility to create a well-balanced narrative that prepares the public for the post-election period – regardless of the results.
"I was part of the October 17 revolution and then I was forced to leave for France due to a lack of job opportunities and a worsening economy. So I can't fathom the possibility that all my pain and effort could simply just go to waste"
"We need candidates to reassure the public that the battle doesn't end in the polls. We still have the municipal elections, the IMF deal, the presidential elections, and much more to come," he said.
Many people are placing their bets on the results to decide whether to stay in the country, emigrate or even come back, El Khoury adds.
Therefore, he suggests ongoing analytical and informative talks about the electoral process, to solidify the opposition's unwavering presence in Lebanese politics.
On the other hand, Camille Mourani, an opposition candidate in Tripoli, told The New Arab that although his campaign held talks explaining all realistic outcomes, he noticed that a large number of people have already installed all their hopes and aspirations in the opposition. Mourani stresses the importance of a guaranteed win to warrant representation for the hopeful electorate.
"Although we are aware of the ferocity of our opponents, our chances of winning are crystallizing day by day. So it will be a major blow to end up losing. Personally, I don't even know how I could go back to my regular employment," he said.
For Mourani, elections were a process of equal excitement and anxiety. Now, as the electoral battle escalates, he says that his support system of family, friends, supporters, and campaigners endowed him with the strength needed to soldier on.
As for the electorate, El-Khoury advises them to shelter their mental health by selecting their candidates cautiously and confidently.
"People need to go into this armoured with confidence, knowing they did the best they could. Any future let-down or misfortune will, therefore, not be of their own doing," El-Khoury said.
Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist based in Beirut.
Follow her on Twitter: @DanaHourany