June 13, 2024

How to Prepare Mental Health Professionals for Election Stress

In early 2024, one crisis line leader shared that “One of our highest priorities in 2024 is preparing for calls and texts that are connected with the election.” He reflected back on 2016 and 2020, when callers from across the political spectrum experienced negative mental health consequences and drove increased volumes for a wide range of mental health services, including crisis line support. Research confirms the experience of crisis line leaders: the American Psychological Association reports that during the 2020 election, two-thirds of adults in the U.S. said the election was a significant source of stress in their lives. 

With the first presidential debate scheduled for this month, many crisis lines and mental health organizations are again preparing for this phenomenon and brainstorming opportunities to prepare their staff and provide empathetic, nuanced support to everyone who reaches out with election stress. As they do so, two operational realities come to mind. First, in-service training that provides realistic practice is the most effective way to hone the skills of responders before the election; but second, in-service training with manual roleplays is prohibitively time-consuming for most organizations. 

In response to this need, ReflexAI is offering a new training specifically for crisis lines and other organizations that provide support for individuals with mental health challenges. Called R.E.S.T (ReflexAI Election Stress Training), this two-hour training is specifically designed to emphasize the practical skills needed for crisis line conversations about election stress. In this post, we’ll cover the essentials of election stress and how R.E.S.T. can support the mission of mental health organizations in 2024. 

During the 2020 election, over two-thirds of U.S. adults said the election was a source of significant stress in their lives. 

Source: American Psychological Association, 2020

What is election stress?

“Election stress” describes heightened emotions and mental health challenges connected to an election and the broader electoral context. It’s a common reaction to the intensity of political campaigns and potential outcomes, particularly in times of divisive rhetoric. Election stress can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, political affiliation, or religious belief.

Individuals experiencing election stress may express a wide range of challenges such as difficulty focusing due to election news, social isolation associated with the rise in political discussions, and difficulty sleeping due to racing thoughts about policy consequences. As someone struggles to see a path forward beyond the election, thoughts of suicide can occur.

Why is it critical to prepare the team for election stress calls?

For crisis lines across the country, your team is motivated to help others, and they deserve to be prepared to provide this support effectively. Moreover, individuals experiencing election stress deserve high-quality support.

While your staff already has the skills to engage with a wide range of callers, these skills must be applied in a nuanced way when it comes to election stress. For example, validation is critical to making a caller feel seen and supported. However, when callers express distress tied to political beliefs, it’s essential to validate their feelings without necessarily endorsing their views. Responders must acknowledge and support the caller’s emotions, even if they don’t share the same beliefs, and must do so while managing their own feelings about the election. 

How can we train the team effectively?

Most organizations have limited time and resources, so providing additional training during an election year – including time-consuming role plays, feedback, and tracking – can be a burden. The ReflexAI Election Stress Training (R.E.S.T.) module gives agents the hands-on training they need to practice their support skills in the context of election stress scenarios quickly and effectively.

Through AI-powered training simulations, agents engage in dynamic conversations with simulated personas experiencing election stress, closely mirroring real-life scenarios. Like an airline pilot using a flight simulator to practice navigating a thunderstorm, team members practice realistic situations that require a wide range of skills. By participating in true-to-life simulations, team members hone their skills before engaging with callers, which builds confidence and empowers them to give better support.

The REST module focuses on five core topics:

  • Identifying election stress

For many individuals, election stress will be a critical reason for the call, and crisis responders should be able to identify this cause in the opening minutes.

  • Connecting effectively

Empathizing with a caller experiencing election stress requires a nuanced ability to focus on emotions and experience. There are multiple ways to do so effectively, deploying the skills that responders use in situations every day. 

  • Assessing suicide risk

Risk assessments vary by organization, but it is critical to ask questions that are neutral, direct, and non-judgmental. Specifics such as timeframe and means can also be life-saving on a call that includes election stress. 

  • Safety planning

Collaboratively discussing the next steps is critical in interactions with election stress. Focusing on actions within the individual’s control is valuable and can address the emotions that an individual is experiencing.

  • Counselor self-care

Crisis work can be challenging, even for the most resilient members of the team. Crisis responders may also experience election stress. Equipping themselves translates into better outcomes for them and the individuals reaching out.

What results should I expect to receive with R.E.S.T.?

Organizations utilizing R.E.S.T. can see benefits across a wide range of areas. 

  • Caller outcomes and experience: With enhanced interactions, callers feel more satisfied with the support they receive when dealing with election stress. These feelings lead to better direct outcomes and a higher likelihood of someone returning in the future if needed.
  • Staff confidence and satisfaction: When your staff is more prepared, they feel more fulfilled and confident in their work, and more supported by your organization. These feelings connect directly to higher morale and increased employee retention. 
  • Organization: The organization as a whole benefits from improved operations, cultivating a culture of resilience, efficiency, and innovation while delivering excellent support to the team and to individuals reaching out. 

While the election isn’t until November, individuals are experiencing election stress now. Early preparation gives your team the skills and confidence to offer better support, sooner. When your team and organization are well-prepared to address caller needs, they can provide better support and mitigate potential challenges with ease. 

Curious to see how ReflexAI’s election stress training (REST) can enhance your organization’s work in 2024? Schedule a demo with a team member and we’ll walk you through how it works.