The Guardian
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Why politicians’ health suffer as election campaigns intensify



POLITICIANS are increasingly prone to ill health this season, as the need to visit nearly every part of the country in furtherance of political campaigns puts enormous pressure on them; and sleep problems, headache and depression set in.

Psychologists, who have tracked politicians’ careers, say their mental health should be monitored. Nobody really believes that members of the executive arm of government are having mental health problems.

 Politicians do face high levels of responsibility and therefore stress. They send young people to war zones and determine the future finances of the country.

    Senior lecturer in psychology at the Salford University, United Kingdom, Dr. Ashley Weinberg, suggests politicians should be regularly screened to test their psychological health and ensure “they are in the best position to make decisions in the national interest.”

  He said: “Decisions that mean people will lose their lives are very painful. They are bound to take a psychological toll, and it will be down to a politician’s coping strategies as to how they deal with it.” 

  In a new book edited by Weinberg, The Psychology of Politicians, he showcases 12 academics’ research in various democratic countries. Their studies track politicians from being selected as candidates to becoming leaders, look at the personality traits and values of elected members, and at how Members of Parliament (MPs) survive – and how they might thrive – in the job. One chapter looks at the impact of denial and avoidance in a foreign policy crisis, another examines politicians’ cognitive skills and their ability to adapt to social change; Weinberg’s own contribution asks whether the effects of psychological strain on politicians mean the job needs to carry a health warning

  It is not just the politicians that are vulnerable. The work pressure, money worries or relationship troubles, most Nigerians experience daily comes with dire consequences.

  Some of the better-known implications of stress that many Nigerians may have experienced include sleep deprivation, headache, anxiety and depression. But increasingly, researchers are uncovering more and more ways in which stress can harm the health.

  Indeed, the health of political office holders is a matter of great interest to Nigerians after the passing away of a sitting president in 2010. President Umaru Yar’Adua’s reported death from an ill health that existed before he ran for office caused a political crisis.

  The presidential candidate of the Nigeria’s opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), was alleged to have collapsed during a political campaign due to ill health. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led government also alleged that Buhari recently went to the United Kingdom (UK) to receive special medical attention.

  But the truth is that Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan as well as other politicians and most Nigerians are ‘sick’ from stress.

  A public health physician, Prof. Akin Osibogun, told The Guardian: “Stress is significantly associated with virtually all the major areas of diseases. Stress is seldom the root cause of disease, but rather interacts with our genetics and our state of our bodies in ways that accelerate disease.”

  In fact, it is estimated that over 75 per cent of Nigerians report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress over the past month.   

  However, contrary to the common wisdom that people in positions of power are more stressed than the rest of us, a new study finds that those in higher-ranking roles wield more control and, thus, suffer less stress and anxiety.

  While the image of the stressed-out executive or the politician under pressure has been firmly planted in the Nigerian mind, research increasingly suggests that it is actually people lower down on the social scale- not those in leadership positions at the top- who suffer the worst health effects of stress.

  A new study of military officials and government staffers at a Harvard executive-training programme, published by TIME magazine, confirms these findings, showing that as people climb the organisational rungs, their stress hormone levels and anxiety typically go down.

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