Regardless of political affiliation, election season can be a time of profound stress for adults in the United States. In 2020, 68% cited stress caused by the election. In 2022, Americans reported the lowest confidence ratings in the three branches of federal government of the past three decades (including the presidency at 25%, the Supreme Court at 23%, and Congress at 7%).
Young people in particular feel that “political involvement rarely has tangible results” (36%) and “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing” (56%). This can inspire feelings of fear, anger, or hopelessness, in addition to election stress. However, while 42% of young people feel that their vote “doesn’t make a difference,” 18- to 29-year-olds are expected to make a record-breaking turnout at this year’s midterm elections on November 8.
The Jed Foundation (JED) wants to spread awareness that civic engagement is good for youth mental health. Volunteering and voting has been associated with positive mental health outcomes. Getting involved with school, peer, and community groups working to effect change creates a sense of social connectedness that can counteract feelings of hopelessness or resignation. By taking part in this year’s electoral process—voting, helping others register to vote or locate their polling places, and otherwise volunteering—young people can combat some of their anxiety and frustration caused by or associated with this election season.
There are many polarizing, important issues on the ballot this fall, including abortion access, LGBTQ protections, and immigrants’ rights. Voting enables young people to proactively engage in the systems that can effect change and protect their communities and loved ones. It also informs lawmakers about what matters the most to their youngest constituents and points toward what will be important at the local, state, and federal levels in the future.
Parents, caregivers, and other caring adults can encourage the young people in their lives to counteract election day trepidation with a few proactive steps: Encourage early voting if the option is available locally; this can help them avoid crowds. Encourage them to do research to refresh on the issues and candidates that will be presented at the ballots, clarifying any answers that might give them confidence in their participation. They can preview a sample ballot and speak to trusted friends and mentors about the issues that concern them most. They should also reconfirm their local polling place and what they need to bring or do in order to vote.
If young people are worried about how to discuss political issues with family members, caring adults can share tips about how to engage calmly and keep the conversation productive. It’s also important to relay that it’s OK to step away if the conversation gets overwhelming.
Then, it is also important to take time to separate from the news and prioritize self-care. This can be done by unplugging from social media, connecting with friends, journaling, and acknowledging the complexity of the emotions they are feeling. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and drinking water is equally essential. For more tips on managing stress, direct teens and young adults to the JED Mental Health Resource Center.
This year’s midterm elections might have a profound impact on young people’s lives for a number of years to come. Currently, the uncertainty of what will happen at the polls is contributing toward heightened stress and anxiety. Civic engagement is one way for young people to alleviate those feelings both before and after November 8. And regardless of the results of this election, it is important for caring adults to support young people by advocating for state- and federal-level protections of youth mental health. In particular, JED calls on elected leaders to continue supporting this bipartisan priority and looks forward to working with them to sponsor legislation and put into effect policies that allow young Americans to thrive.