People no longer trust the government. People are scared of each other. Instead of admiring the beauty of life, people are dreading waking up in the morning. Suicide rates are up, we are reminded of a looming environmental catastrophe every day and cynicism has become our default perspective on life. We are living in the midst of an age of anxiety, and we need optimism right now more than ever.
Much of this anxiety is politically fueled. Public trust in government is near historic lows, with only 17 percent of Americans today saying they can trust the government to do what is right, with “just about always” at 3 percent and “most of the time” at 14 percent. This is a drastic change from about 50 years ago. In 1958, about 75 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.
With the threat of presidential impeachment coloring every single news outlet and television cycle this month, it’s no wonder why people not only are distrustful of the government, but also are feeling a general sense of cynicism regarding the country and society as a whole. With abortion rights and environmental policy in pure disarray, people are no longer confident in national institutions to do what’s right when it comes to matters close to their hearts. Former Secretary of State John Kerry said that cynicism has grown across the country because the “government hasn’t delivered.” “Cynicism has grown on the right, in the center, on the left,” Kerry told Amy Schumer on her Spotify podcast, “3 Girls, 1 Keith” this week, which also sought to address climate change and contemporary politics.
How political turmoil affects everyday people has become increasingly evident. In a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, 39 percent of adults in the United States are more anxious today than they were a year ago. While anxiety has been increasing in all age ranges and demographics, women, people of color and millennials have been overwhelmed the most, and one can easily link this back to tense issues seen all over the social landscape today.
Women are at risk of losing reproductive rights, and immigrants and minorities are being increasingly subjected to political stresses, joined by issues such as U.S. immigration, travel bans, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and individual cases of police brutality against people of color. With the extreme increase in university living costs and tuition, one can understand why millennials are under tremendous amounts of pressure to make ends meet relative to other generations, such as baby boomers. “This poll shows U.S. adults are increasingly anxious, particularly about health, safety and finances,” said former American Psychiatric Association president Anita Everett. The implications of this are very serious, and even more so dangerous. Everett says that we must be conscious “that increased stress and anxiety can significantly impact many aspects of people’s lives, including their mental health, and it can affect families.”
Academy-award-winning actor Tom Hanks has expressed his opinion that “cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse.” This may be a reason why Hanks had recently starred in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a biographical movie following the life of Mr. Rogers, a man with a reputation for calming viewers down and teaching children to not take things too seriously.
It is important that people, especially young adults of our age, remember to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life, whether that be the cloud formations in the sky, the vibrant colors of autumn leaves or the liberating feeling of finishing an assignment. Optimism and hope are two key attributes which take people far in life, and are not only healthy but essential to students in the midst of midterms and finals. If students feel as if things in life have just become too much to handle, they should seek out the resources and services Binghamton University has to offer, such as the University Counseling Center or psychiatric consultations with the Decker Student Health Services Center. An after-hours crisis line for nights, weekends and holidays is also available at 607-777-2772, where a mental health crisis counselor will speak with you directly. While we are certainly living during a time of heightened social anxiety and cynicism, it is important to remember that worrisome things will always pass and that help is always available.
David Hatami is a sophomore majoring in political science.