New Focus on Mental Health in Politics as Jacinda Ardern Steps Down 

On Jan. 19, 2023, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that she would not be seeking re-election for another term. Since Ardern was widely praised during her time in office, this news was shocking to the public. Ardern spoke candidly about her reason for leaving, claiming that she did not have enough energy to take on another term. 

Ardern was first elected in 2017, at the age of 37, and again in 2020, making her one of the youngest leaders in the world at the time. Most notably, her administration dealt with the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings and the COVID-19 pandemic. In both instances, Ardern quickly took action. She responded to the shooting by swiftly passing gun reform laws, and to COVID by imposing some of the strictest border restrictions in the world. Additionally, Ardern actively fought against child poverty and climate change. 

Arden’s announcement to not seek re-election was addressed directly at a news conference. Ardern stated, “Leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also the most challenging. You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unplanned and unexpected challenges.” Ardern pointed out how the prime minister position took a toll on her mental health, and she continued to explain the importance of having good mental standing while holding office. 

Political leaders are faced with constant decision-making and problem-solving. According to Brett Ford, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, “When it comes to politics, there can be a trade-off between feeling good and doing good.” Politicians carry countries on their backs, and while they have a responsibility to “do good,” they are also human beings and deserve to take care of themselves. Additionally, the American Psychological Association explains that even for everyday citizens, the “stress of following daily political news can negatively affect people’s mental health and well-being.” For politicians, this knowledge and power comes at a cost. They must face inherent stressors that come with any position of power, but also the constant scrutiny of the public eye. People must weigh the costs and benefits in all situations in life, and for Ardern, another term as prime minister was not a task that she felt fully equipped to handle.

As the New Zealand 2023 General Election approaches on October 14, the election will look much different than many expected with Ardern out of the picture. Even so, all eyes will be on New Zealand as they pick a new leader to follow in her steps. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on March 1, 2021 addressing media at press conference in Wellington, New Zealand (Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

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