STUDY: 2016 election negatively affected mental health of Muslim college students

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The 2016 presidential election was associated with considerable mental health declines among Muslim college students, with religious Muslims seeing the largest declines in mental health, according to a study that looked at students from 90 college campuses across the country.

According to the study co-authored by Sasha Zhou, an assistant professor of public health at Wayne State University, the proportion of Muslim students experiencing clinically significant mental health symptoms rose seven percentage points over the changes experienced by all other students when comparing data from the 14-months post-election to the 14-months prior. Before the election, 22% of Muslim students screened positive for depression, anxiety or an eating disorder, compared to 34% after. For non-Muslims, the portion of students who screened positive for a mental health disorder rose from 21% pre-election to 26% post-election.

The findings highlight the links between socio political events and mental health, with potential negative consequences for educational and social outcomes among affected groups, according to the new study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics.

"Schools and other communities need to consider these concerns in their efforts to support young adults, and researchers should improve understanding of causal mechanisms and potential prevention and intervention strategies," said lead author Sara Renee Abelson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

"Our results suggest that the election of a politician who uses racist rhetoric and advances exclusionary policies may harm the mental health of young people in the targeted group."

The study researchers used survey data from a random sample of students 18 years or or older from 90 colleges and universities participating in the Healthy Minds Study in the 14-months before or after the election. They found that the biggest changes were:

  • Religious Muslims: 11 percentage points
  • Non-religious Muslims: 8 percentage points
  • Religious non-Muslims: 3.5 percentage points
  • Non-religious non-Muslims: 2.8 percentage points

Abelson said mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing.

"Mental health is also linked to salient outcomes such as academic success, career success, lifetime earnings, and more. Untreated symptoms have many downstream effects," she said.

Abelson said she hopes the study encourages anyone serving young people to consider the potential mental health consequences of the 2020 election and be proactive in providing support to the students most targeted by hateful rhetoric and exclusionary policies.

Abelson and the Healthy Minds Study continue to conduct research with colleges and universities and will continue to collect data through the 2020 election.

In addition to Abelson and Zhou, authors included Sarah Ketchen Lipson, assistant professor of the Boston University School of Public Health and senior author Daniel Eisenberg, Professor at UCLA.

Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel, 734-763-0368,

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