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The untold health toll of voting

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q1060 (Published 23 May 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q1060
  1. Charu Bahri, freelance journalist
  1. Rajasthan, India
  1. charubahri{at}gmail.com

Half the world’s population, across more than 50 countries, will be voting in national elections over the course of 2024. Research shows the mental and physical toll the process has on health, reports Charu Bahri

Supriyanto, 54, passed out in the polling booth he was managing in West Java, Indonesia, on 14 February 2024. He was rushed to a nearby health facility where he was pronounced dead. Supriyanto had had breathing difficulties before he passed out, and his family said he had a history of asthma.

Supriyanto was one of 181 election officials who died on polling day in Indonesia’s election. Another 4770 officials are recorded as being ill in the fortnight after. Most deaths were from heart attacks, road traffic accidents, septic shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and hypertension.

In the six month run up to the 2020 US presidential election, participants in a study reported an increase in moderate to severe anxiety and depression, an increase in visits to mental health clinics, and increased prescription drug use—and a decline after the election.1 Another group of researchers reported that 68% of adults they surveyed said that the election was a significant source of stress in their lives—up from 52% when they’d conducted the same survey for the 2016 election.2

Researchers have a name for this: election stress disorder. “It’s not a formal diagnosis but the concept is valid and reflects the experience of many people worldwide,” says Robert Bright, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic. “Anxiety is a disorder of the future: what would, could, should happen. And that is very much what people living in those countries going to the polls are thinking about.”

Bright says impending elections can lead to …

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