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Election reaction

Many Dane County voters have been reporting anxiety, anger, sadness and depression to their therapists in the nearly two weeks after the election. Above, Kellyn Maguire, 20, of Downers Grove, Illinois, left, and Sarah Fons, 21, of Stoughton, react to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold's concession speech at the Madison Marriott West on Election Night.

It’s been nearly two weeks, and many local voters are still in a state of shock — make that county of shock — over Donald Trump’s surprise win in the presidential election.

Some are in a psychological paralysis, with area therapists reporting their clients taking it hard, using valuable couch time to talk about their post-election stress, anxiety or depression. Yes, depression.

Because in politically active Dane County, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton crushed Trump 70 percent (217,526 votes) to 23 percent (71,279 votes). Most people didn’t expect the election to turn out the way it did and are overwhelmed mentally.

Meagan Geurts, a licensed clinical social worker whose office is on University Avenue, said many of her clients are feeling anxious about the president-elect’s plans based upon his campaign rhetoric.

“They’re a little more anxious and nervous about what this is going to mean for some of them personally and then for our country long-term over the next four years and beyond,” she said.

Geurts uses the words deflated and defeated. Many of her clients feel distraught and have been pushing aside their own personal problems to talk about their election blues.

“The sentiment that my clients have had is that it feels trivial to talk about their own issues with everything that’s going on in our country since Donald Trump has become the president-elect,” Geurts said.

Donal MacCoon at Madison Psychiatric Associates said the vast majority of his clients are talking about the election, with women who have been sexually traumatized having their experiences “re-triggered” by a man who many believe has boasted about committing sexual assaults.

MacCoon said he’s seen anxiety, fear, sadness and depression in his clients.

“It’s dramatic on a number of levels,” he said, noting that he treats UW-Madison staff who are worried about some of their minority students. “It’s affecting their lives personally, but even beyond that, it’s affecting their communities and how they feel. How do they honor their own ethical obligations?”

Emilie Sondel, who works in the same practice, said she’s been trying to help clients figure out ways to channel their frustration and anger and put it toward something positive.

“How can you use your energy to let people know that this doesn’t feel okay to you?” she said. “Is there a peaceful protest that you can become a part of or are there certain people in your life that you need to sit down and talk to and try to gain an understanding?”

To the country, Sondel said her message would be that everyone needs to try to come together and gain an understanding of where both sides are coming from, otherwise the divide is going to be even greater.

She works primarily with children and families, and is also seeing the anguish over how clients parent their children.

“From a child’s point of view, even the younger ones are feeling like, ‘Wait, he is supposed to be the mean guy,’” Sondel said. “And they are really feeling like they don’t understand how this election turned out and are feeling scared about what that means based upon what they’ve heard.”

Julie Kull, who is in private practice on Regent Street, said the post-election depression she’s seen comes on top of lots of anxiety leading up to Nov. 8. Some of her clients felt like they were in a fog in the days after the election.

“They are feeling nervous about the results and what the world’s going to look like after Donald Trump,” Kull said.

The reactions are all unexpected because she — like most people — didn’t expect Trump to win. “This was a really emotional and high stakes election,” Kull said.

Nancy Pullen, who practices at Psychology Associates on Olin Avenue, said it’s also been hard for her as a therapist because practitioners are not supposed to talk about how they feel. Nevertheless, Pullen added, “We’re all pretty overwhelmed with dismay.”

Her first couple of clients the day after the election were really difficult, Pullen said.

“I haven’t had anybody crying, but (they were) just so upset,” she said. “And then talking about how it affects their friends or their personal lives.”

A lot of her clients are concerned for their friends who they think may be deported, Pullen said, noting the majority of her clients are struggling. “And these are people who already have an anxiety disorder,” she said.

She estimates that most have spent about a half-hour of therapy time talking about the election. “I think it’s affecting all of us everywhere... It’s personal for people.”

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Samara Kalk Derby covers events in and around Madison on Sundays. If you have an idea for Around Town, contact her at or 608-252-6439.


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