Study: Politics affect the moods of physicians

Emily Rappleye (Twitter) - Print  | 

Political events affect young physicians' moods, suggesting current events could impact patient care, according to a new study published by The BMJ.

The study involved 2,345 medical interns in the U.S. who provided mood data between 2016 and 2018 as part of the "Intern Health Study," a study of stress and depression during the first year of residency training. Interns were asked to score their mood on a scale of 1 to 10 each day. Researchers calculated average mood scores for the interns after notable political and nonpolitical events. These scores were compared to the average mood during a prior monthlong control period.

Researchers chose events based on a History Channel list of notable events. The political events included in the study were the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump's inauguration, the Muslim travel ban, the failure to repeal the ACA, the executive order to prevent separation of immigration families at the border, the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation, the migrant caravan, midterm elections and the failure to secure border wall funding. Nonpolitical events included items such as the solar eclipse, the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Hurricane Irma, and the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting.

They found some political events did change interns' moods. The biggest dip occurred after the 2016 election, when interns' moods dropped an average of 0.32 points and again by 0.25 points during the inauguration. This had an effect similar in magnitude to starting the internship, when researchers observed an average mood drop of 0.3 points.

The executive order to keep immigrant families together at the border produced an average increase in mood of 0.16 points, while the failure to repeal the ACA had no statistically significant effect.

None of the nonpolitical events elicited mood changes.

"Our findings suggest that, in recent years, repeated long term exposure to emotionally arousing news can also have psychological implications," the authors wrote. "While not as severe as PTSD, these emotional ups and downs may still add to the mental burden of young U.S. physicians, who are already under high levels of stress and at increased risk for mental health issues."

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