Waiting for the general election has been a bit like waiting for Christmas. The hype keeps building but the big day never seems to arrive. Rather than greetings cards, however, ‘vote for me’ flyers have been piling up on the door mat. And instead of wall-to-wall seasonal specials, television viewing has been nonstop politics. Come May 7th, few of us will expect to be unwrapping gifts and digging into turkey, however. But taking a visit to the polling station could be just the thing for leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
It sounds absurd, but the mere act of putting a cross in a box could lead to an improvement in mental – and possibly physical – health. Research now tells us that there is a clear link between how much we participate in politics and in our community and our health. Having an opinion on issues, exercising our right to vote, and taking some kind of positive action seems to offer protection from depression. It needn’t be tying yourself to a tree in protest over a new bypass; experiments show that sending a letter or email to an official about a political issue does the job. And people who are already distressed or under a lot of strain are set to gain the most from such simple actions. Green activists take note: swampy-style tunnel-digging exploits have not been linked to improved wellbeing (although you might get very fit doing it).
All too often, voting is seen as something that ‘should be done’. Official surveys show that, today, civic duty and habit are the two key motivators for going to the polling booth. More depressing than that is the finding that the majority of 16-25 year olds have no intention of voting at all next week.
Standing on his soapbox, expert in adolescent wellbeing and psychology Prof Marc Zimmerman insists that voting – regardless of who it is for – can help children. He says that chatting about voting and politics can “help kids become better critical thinkers and help parents build communication patterns with their kids.” And ultimately, children who are more engaged with their community are statistically less likely to be involved in crime and drug use.
Whether or not you agree with any of the politicians, it’s worth considering showing up to vote on health grounds alone. Getting a psychological boost can make a real difference in physical health and can ease the symptoms of many long term ailments, such as the pain of fibromyalgia. We really ought to see our right to vote differently. A vote for anyone is a vote for your health. Now there’s a simple manifesto.
Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.Follow @realdoctorstu