The recession continues to deepen. One in seven Americans now lives below the poverty level. Home foreclosures are at an all-time high. But it’s not just our finances that are feeling the blow. Studies are showing that the country’s mental health is suffering as much as its paychecks.
A recent survey of 3,307 adults found that the demand for psychiatric and mental health services has nearly doubled since the recession began. Job loss, increasing debt and an inability to pay the mortgage have caused the rates of acute stress, anxiety, depression and marital conflict to soar.
According to Dr. David Spiegel, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, “We’ve seen people in the ER, suicidal or depressed or both, because they’ve lost their jobs.”
In Elkhart, Indiana, an area with the unenviable claim of being the region hardest hit by the recession, a coroner has blamed the county’s spike in suicides on lost jobs and financial hardship.
Men seem to be particularly susceptible to economic stress. According to the Financial Times, 80 percent of the 5.1 million jobs lost in the recession were previously held by men. While the female unemployment rate is currently 7 percent, for males the rate has risen to 8.8 percent.
Although the workplace has changed dramatically within the last 30 years, men still tend to define themselves by their professional accomplishments. When work is going well, men generally report feeling successful. But when they lose their jobs, a man’s self-esteem spirals downward in a tailspin.
The way they react to the stress is particularly debilitating. While stressed women tend to reach out for the support of other females, men become antisocial. They may lash out at loved ones or avoid being with friends. They shun the very social connections that could support them during difficult times.
Men are also more prone to violence and may turn that aggression inward on themselves. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing in the United States. Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women. Since the risk factors for suicide include excessive use of alcohol or drugs to help cope with emotions, social isolation and unemployment, the current economic climate puts men in further danger.
To make matters worse, men are notoriously poor at asking for help. Their “I-can-take-care-of-myself” demeanor means they’re unlikely to call a professional or discuss their mental health concerns with their doctor. They may even shun their wives’ or girlfriends’ efforts to console them and instead pull further away.
Family members, neighbors and friends can play a key role in others’ psychological states. Keep in touch with friends who have lost their jobs. Get together for inexpensive social gatherings. Allow time to sit and listen to their troubles. Express concern about changes you note in their behavior or, in extreme situations, call someone who can help. You may not be able to pay the bills or get their job back. But you can extend a hand to help.
Tips for managing recession stress
Are you depressed or stressed because of the recession?
Try these tips to boost your spirits:
Reach out. Don’t pull away. Fill your schedule with friends and enjoyable activities. Call a high school buddy. Invite family over for a backyard barbecue. You’ll surround yourself with folks who love you and who can see you through this bleak time.
Act as if things were better.
Life may seem pretty dismal. But you no doubt remember happier times. Behave as if you felt better or as if your finances were under control. You’ll foster a better attitude and give yourself a respite from the stress.
Find support. Plenty of people feel your same pain. Talk to others at your church. Or join a group at a local mental health clinic. They’ll be able to offer the comfort you need.
Exercise. Physical exertion elevates your mood and boosts your immune system. Put on your tennis shoes and go hiking. Or shoot hoops with your fifth-grader at the park. The effects will be immediate.
Foster community. Pull together with others who are in similar straits and use your talents in constructive ways. Perhaps you build a community garden or you trade childcare duties so you can look for a job. Together you can make changes that are beneficial to all.
Get help. Talk to your physician or a mental health professional if you’re troubled by your depression, stress or anxiety. They’ll be able to give you concrete suggestions for surviving the financial downturn.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com