President Trump's government shutdown has hit South Florida in several visible ways. Bags of trash are piling up at Everglades National Park. Shipments of produce and flowers are being delayed because federal inspectors have been furloughed. An entire terminal at Miami International Airport was closed because there weren't enough TSA workers to screen travelers.
But the shutdown is also having an invisible effect on local workers who have now gone almost a month without a paycheck.
"For many of them, it brings back past traumatic events and things that have gone on for them," says Dr. Dara Bushman, a Pembroke Pines psychologist with several clients who work for the federal government. "If you take a person who's working hard to provide for their family and their upbringing is that of not having resources, they're feeling like they did when they were 10 years old without having food on the table and having to scramble for it."
Bushman can relate — her husband is a federal agent who's been forced to work without pay. Being able to share that experience with clients has helped her connect with them in a deeply personal way.
"I don't wish this for people, but you don't get it unless you're going through it," she says.
With this shutdown now the longest in U.S. history, the impact on Americans' mental health cannot be overstated. Nonprofits that depend on government funding, including those that serve veterans and Native Americans, can't operate at their usual levels. Wellness programs in federal prisons have also been stopped. Hundreds of thousands of families suffer increased stress from their lack of income.
The shutdown stories federal workers have been sending me are heartbreaking. I don’t think most people realize the human toll pic.twitter.com/D7vdNMr1WH— send me your shutdown stories pls (@kenklippenstein) January 18, 2019
Here in South Florida, Bushman says clients have told her they feel disrespected or abandoned. One called her in the middle of a panic attack he attributed to his furlough.
"It's the body having a physiological response," she says.
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With so much in limbo, Bushman says she encourages people to try to maintain a regular schedule, regardless of whether or not they are reporting to work.
"These employees have been so preoccupied with what's going on with the furlough that they're not taking care of themselves," she says. "They're not sleeping, their anxiety has increased, they're not exercising, they're not eating properly, their schedule is in complete disarray."
Bushman says she tries to help clients understand that although they are personally affected, the shutdown isn't personal.
"It's just a circumstance, but it’s not an identity," she says. "The big thing in politics is that people tend to identify with and personalize it."