Democracy Anxiety Disorder: A new diagnosis? | GUEST COMMENTARY

FILE - Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Over the years of my practice as a psychoanalyst, teens and adults have come to see me for troubled relationships, parenting difficulties, depression, social anxiety and the many other challenges of everyday life. Until just recently, though, no one had ever called with the chief complaint that they were grieving for our country and, so, for their future here. This month, however, a bright graduate student began her session with this memorable phrase: “Well, I figured it out: I have Democracy Anxiety Disorder.

And she’s not alone. While many of our fellow citizens deny the existential threats to our country and planet, my colleagues and I now must strive in a therapeutic setting to help the millions of people who cannot look away from what is happening to our country and our freedoms.


Sadly, since the Jan. 6 insurrection, nearly all of my patients are reporting some form of DAD. The recognition that our country faces a failure of responsible leadership is weighing heavily on individuals who care about the truth and our American democracy.

One mother tells me that, while the pandemic and the riot on the Capital were terrifying enough, the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade has filled her with despair for her daughters’ future.


Young adults question whether they should bring children into a world where climate change and gun violence threaten their survival, and where there is little reason to have faith that our elected leaders will address those dangers, whether due to self-interest or denial.

How do we help patients who are grappling with the meaning of Jan. 6, climate change, the threat to our electoral process, the loss of a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body? How do we offer psychological help when we know the danger is real, not imagined, and when we, the caregivers, ourselves feel powerless to stop the destruction?

Typically, the starting place in dealing with any anxiety, of course, is to recognize what is causing the stress. My patients already know that all too well, because they confront it every time they scroll social media or turn on a cable news program.

That means their first task is to try to regain some control — some sense that they have power, even if it’s not complete — over that stressor. Here we have some agency, because in the face of a threat to good government and democracy itself, power rests in voting and volunteering in grassroot efforts. Progress in turning around bad government may be slow and the results mixed, but engaging in some meaningful tasks aimed at dealing with what induces our stress can reduce anxiety and offer hope for the future.

And while denial is rarely the best defense, I’ve become an advocate of periodic breaks from social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. It is critical to strike a balance between remaining informed and protecting one’s mental health. No brain should be buffeted by the stress of the continuous breaking news reports of catastrophes, crises and existential threats to our democracy.

Nationally, the only way we can overcome the growing threat of Democracy Anxiety Disorder is to have elected officials who are brave enough to face the truth and skilled enough to deal with what troubles us. DAD will diminish only if we elect leaders who give us confidence that they will do what’s right and will use the democratic process to solve these cataclysmic problems. Without restoring that trust, our country’s mental health will surely deteriorate — that, we cannot deny.

Kerry Malawista ( is a writer and psychotherapist practicing in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.