Post-Election Depression: How to Cope

At the end of any political campaign, depression can await the defeated.

November 4, 2008, 4:59 PM

Nov. 5, 2008— -- It's over. Nov. 5 has come, and no matter whom you were rooting for, many political animals say the day after an election can bring on a special sort of blues. The bored kind.

"It's almost kind of a surreal feeling. For us, it's like going 90 mph to nothing. You're working 20- to 22-hour days with no sleep, nothing to eat. By the time you wake up the next day, you're just trying to figure out what happened," said Sarah Huckabee, who worked as a senior aide during the presidential campaign of her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

When her father's campaign ended during the Republican primaries, Huckabee said she felt more than a sense of loss.

"It felt like it didn't hit us until a couple of weeks later when we were like, 'Uh, what do we do now?' You don't know how to have a normal life anymore," said Huckabee, who is now the executive director for Huck PAC, a GOP campaigning organization in Washington, D.C.

"Getting back to the real world is probably one of the hardest things," she said.

Life may not have changed for most Americans as much life changed for the daughter of a candidate, but post-election blues can hit many who made an investment in the 2008 campaigns.

"For 90 percent of the people it's going to be like getting behind your sports team where family members gloat: My team won and yours didn't," said Dr. Andrew Harper, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

"But, some may actually have more to lose," Harper said. "The more resources invested -- whether it's financial or time -- those individuals are going to be more significantly affected."

For some, future careers aspects can depend on the outcome of Election Day, which makes the post-election boring, as well as depressing.

Excitement in the Political Race

Campaigners in the Washington State gubernatorial race knew the outcome would be close.

Polls were tight and the two contenders, Democrat Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi, ran against each other in a record-breaking close election four years ago. In that race, Gregoire was the winner by just 133 votes out of the 2.8 million cast, according to reporting from the Seattle Times.

"I love politics, and I feel passionate about it. It becomes a 24-7 in many ways," Gregoire campaign spokeswoman Debra Carnes said. "We've made nearly a million phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors. You're constantly strategizing, and looking ahead."

Carnes said she actually has no plans for herself after Election Day, when she will get her life back from campaign strategy.

"I'll probably get a good night's sleep, but then I'm not sure from there," she said.

Carnes counterpart on the Rossi campaign, Jill Strait, had remarkably similar sentiments.

"It's been an intense campaign right from the start and it's pretty much been 12-, 14-, 16-hour days seven days a week in the past few months," Strait said.

"You know what you're getting into when you sign up for a race that's so close and competitive, and the excitement is part of it," she said. "I'll be bored when it's over, definitely; I won't what to do with myself."

Not true for Adam Brickley, a recent college graduate who started the blog Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President in late February 2007. Political pundits and analysts have widely credited his efforts as one of several catalysts that led to her nomination.

"This summer I was working on it almost as a full time job, or part time job on this blog," Brickley said. "I've done everything from research, to writing, to maintaining e-mail lists, maintaining a Facebook group, a MySpace page, I spent time in the comment sections of other blogs."

For all his efforts, Brickley has his eyes past Election Day.

Looking Ahead to 2012

"Obviously, if it's a win, we're keeping the Web site," Brickley said. "If it's a loss, we launch Draft Sarah 2012 the next day."

Neither Carnes nor Strait was willing to speculate on what they might do for jobs if their candidate loses. In fact, Carnes refused to consider that a possibility. "She's not going to lose," she said.

But for those who find themselves disappointed, as well as bored, on the day after Election Day, Harper has some suggestions.

"For most people, it's a vicarious issue," Harper said.

According to Harper, a positive or negative reaction can depend as much on an individual's disposition as on the victory or defeat of the candidate they supported.

"There's going to be those who always put on a negative spin," Harper said. If their candidate loses, they think, "I never do anything right, this is just one more example of how I pick the wrong person, I don't choose the right things."

Harper said even a win can be a bit disappointing for some idealists.

"It's kind of like waking up on Christmas morning -- even if you get exactly what you want, a few hours later, everything is not as bright and shiny as you once thought," Harper said. "There's no single elected official who doesn't have checks and balances in place. Nobody is going to accomplish everything they had hoped for."

Bill McConochie, the founder of Political Psychology Research, Inc., takes a different view.

"What I do know from my research is there are two types of political animals, if you will," McConochie said. According to McConochie, how far a person falls on either end of a spectrum of "liberal" or "conservative" traits will determine how serious they will take a victory or defeat on Election Day: The more extreme in views, the more important the election.

"Their reaction will simply depend on how strongly a person is invested in the election process," said McConochie.

For Huckabee, that investment was so strong that it made the next move difficult.

"Sometimes it's hard to want to work on another [campaign] again, especially if the candidate is someone you're close to personally -- in my case, my dad," Huckabee said. "Everyone deals with loss in different ways, and some people can't get out there and do it again."

"I think the biggest thing is to look at the silver lining, and look at the impact that you may have had on local races, or on a particular issue," she said.

Dan Childs contributed to this report.

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