November 16, 2018
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Two-thirds of Americans are stressed about the country’s future, new survey finds

Martha Irvine | AP
Martha Irvine | AP
With a "Let's Pray For America" bumper sticker in the foreground on Thursday, a woman walks into a mall in Bloomingdale, Illinois, that's housing a polling place for early voters. As Americans head to the polls for this midterm election, they are very polarized by issues from immigration and Supreme Court nominees to gun control.

More than two-thirds of Americans are stressed about the future of the country, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” survey, which was released Tuesday.

In a survey of 3,458 American adults — conducted in August across age groups and in all 50 states — 69 percent said the direction of the country caused them significant stress. That marks a relatively steep increase from the share of people, 63 percent, who felt this way last year.

The report comes out during an acrimonious campaign season, the final weeks of which have been marked by violence. Last week, pipe bombs were mailed to a series of prominent Democratic officials and donors, as well as to CNN. And on Saturday, a man massacred 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, authorities say.

“The environment is very toxic,” Arthur C. Evans, the CEO of the American Psychological Association, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

He added that concern about the state of the country cut across party lines.

“A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents see it that way,” Evans said. “People don’t believe current political environment is getting better and may in fact be getting worse.”

[Enough is enough: Fed-up Americans crave unity amid violence]

While respondents weren’t asked specifically about President Donald Trump, Evans said, unpredictability and uncertainty magnify stress. “We have a leader who is not predictable and who does create a certain amount of uncertainty and stress for people,” he observed.

At the same time, Americans are overwhelmingly hopeful about their own futures, the data reveals, even as they fear for the country.

The American Psychological Association focused this year on Generation Z, people ages 15 to 21. Though only Americans 18 and older were surveyed, additional interviews were conducted with members of this age cohort to ascertain what was troubling young people. The results show that the country’s youngest adults are the most likely of all generations to report poor mental health, while also more likely to seek out professional help for psychological difficulties.

Teenagers and young adults are worried about high-profile issues that have dominated national headlines, such as gun violence and sexual assault. Seventy-five percent of this age cohort said mass shootings were a significant source of stress, with 72 percent being afraid specifically of school shootings. Only slightly fewer millennials had similar feelings.

The survey revealed a notable difference between young and old Americans when it came to stress about sexual harassment and assault. More than half of those surveyed in Generation Z said reports about sexual misconduct were a significant source of stress. Just 39 percent of adults shared this sentiment.

While young Americans report high stress levels related to the national political climate, they are the least likely to vote. Just over half of those ages 18 to 21 said they planned to vote in the November elections, markedly below the 70 percent average across all generations.

Evans said stress can have a range of physical and psychological manifestations — stomach aches, headaches, sleeplessness and, if unmitigated, it can result in obesity, depression and cardiovascular problems.

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