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Americans are stressed out about mass shootings, the political climate and health care, survey finds

In this year’s “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association, 71 percent of Americans said mass shootings are a significant source of stress.

Younger adults expressed greater concern (and greater stress) than older ones about their ability to access and afford health care services in the future.
Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

Although the 2020 presidential election is a year away, more than half of Americans say it as a “significant stressor” in their lives, according to the annual “Stress in America” survey from the American Psychological Association (APA).

In fact, the current political climate is one of the most commonly cited sources of stress in the survey, along with mass shootings and health care.

“While overall stress levels have not changed significantly over the past few years, the proportion of Americans who say they are experiencing stress about specific issues has risen over the past year,” the APA’s report on the survey notes.

In this year’s survey, more than seven in 10 Americans  (71 percent) said mass shootings are a significant source of stress, up from 62 percent in 2018. An almost equal proportion — 69 percent — pointed to health care (mostly the cost of it) as a significant stressor, while 62 percent cited the current political climate, including 56 percent who specifically mentioned the 2020 presidential election.

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Political affiliation influenced the responses regarding the current political climate. While almost three-quarters (71 percent) of Democrats said the upcoming election is a significant source of stress for them, less than half of Republicans (48 percent) indicated the same.

The survey, which was released earlier this week, polled a representative sample of 3,617 American adults between August 1st and September 3rd, 2019 — well before the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.

Leading stressors

Here are some other findings from the survey:

Mass shootings: A majority of all racial and ethnic groups said mass shootings are a significant source of stress in their lives, but it was mentioned the most by Hispanics (84 percent) and blacks (79 percent), followed by Asian Americans (77 percent), Native Americans (71 percent) and whites (66 percent).

Health care: Among the 69 percent of people who said they felt significantly stressed about health care, 64 percent pointed to the cost of that care as the cause of their stress. Interestingly, people with private insurance were more likely to say this than those with public insurance.

American Psychological Association
Younger adults expressed greater concern (and greater stress) than older ones about their ability to access and afford health care services in the future. For example, more than six in 10 (65 percent) of Gen Zers said they were worried about this issue, compared to 45 percent of baby boomers.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) adults were significantly more concerned, too. Seventy-one percent said worrying about their future health care needs caused them significant stress versus 54 percent of non-LGBT individuals.

Safety and security: More than three in five Americans (64 percent) said worries about violence and crime caused them significant stress in 2019, up from 51 percent two years earlier. A similar proportion (60 percent) reported that acts of terrorism are a source of stress, up from 47 percent in 2017.

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Sexual harassment is also a significant stressor for many Americans — 45 percent cited it in 2019, up from 39 percent last year.

Climate change: The proportion of Americans who say climate change is a significant source of stress rose to 56 percent in 2019, up from 51 percent a year earlier. This issue is a bigger stressor for Hispanics (70 percent), Asian Americans (62 percent) and blacks (61 percent) than for whites (50 percent).

Abortion laws: Changing abortion laws were cited as a source of significant stress by 44 percent of the adults surveyed. Americans who live below the poverty level are more likely to point to changes in these laws as being stressful than those above the poverty level (50 percent versus 41 percent).

Immigration: Almost half of adults (48 percent) listed immigration as a significant source of stress in their lives. The proportion was higher for Hispanics (66 percent) than for Asian-Americans (52 percent), Native Americans (58 percent), blacks (46 percent) or whites (43 percent).

Interestingly, 58 percent of the people surveyed said they wished there were more they could do for immigrants.

American Psychological Association
Discrimination: One-quarter (25 percent) of American adults say discrimination is a source of significant stress in their lives, up from 20 percent in 2015 and 2016. The survey also found that a large majority of people of color (63 percent) say discrimination has kept them from having a full and productive life. A similar proportion of LGBT adults (64 percent) say the same.

“When looking at the responses of people of color, this year’s results represent a significant increase from 2015, the last time this set of questions was asked, when less than half (49%) said that discrimination prevented them from having a full and productive life,” the survey report notes.

The country’s future

More than half of the adults surveyed this year said they believe the United States is at the lowest point in its history that they can remember.

But they apparently don’t believe that things will remain dire. More than three-quarters of the survey’s respondents also said they feel hopeful about the future.

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“There is a lot of uncertainty in our world right now — from mass shootings to climate change. This year’s survey shows us that more Americans are saying these issues are causing them stress,” says Arthur C. Evans Jr., APA’s chief executive officer, in a released statement.

“While [there] are important societal issues that need to be addressed, the results also reinforce the need to have more open conversations about the impact of stress and stress management, especially with groups that are experiencing high levels of stress,” he adds.

FMI: You can read the entire report on this year’s “Stress in America” survey on the APA’s website.