Mental Health and the Economy By Roberta V. Sanders, BSN, MSW Most of us have heard this riddle—What’s the difference between a depression and a recession? A recession is when your neighbor is out of work; a depression is when you are out of work! While this has been told time and again to elicit laughter, our nation’s current economic condition is no laughing matter. The state of the economy is a serious issue and affects many aspects of our lives. A related question that should not be overlooked is this: How does this country’s financial outlook affect our mental health? The answer is no joke. The news we receive on a daily basis is continually clouded with difficult issues and concerns. Job losses and cutbacks, home foreclosures, a plummeting stock market, losses in 401K and other retirement accounts, financial difficulties at the federal, state, county, and city level—we have heard the same litany of bad news and difficult times. With Michigan’s unemployment rate at a dismal 15% and Detroit’s jobless rate at a staggering 28%, we all understand that each of us has been dramatically touched by this recession. It is important to understand that monetary issues and concerns may adversely affect our emotional well-being. Warning signs that this may be the case include persistent sadness and crying, excessive anxiousness, lack of sleep, constant fatigue, undue irritability and anger, difficulty paying attention and staying focused, and the inability to function at work, school and at home. Problems such as depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior, over-eating, excessive gambling, increased drinking, illicit drug use, and misuse of prescription medications are some of the troubling behaviors that we can experience in reaction to financial hardship. However, there are things we can do in these difficult times to protect our mental health. Effectively managing our overall level of stress and making it through this tough economic period include the following: 1. Keep things in perspective. Recognize that there are still good aspects in each of our lives, and retain hope for the future. 2. Strengthen connections with friends and family who can provide emotional support. 3. Engage in relaxing pastimes such as hobbies or appropriate physical activities (remember to see your medical doctor before taking up any new physical routine). 4. Explore re-training for new employment or enhance your current skills. Community colleges can be a great resource for this information. 5. Seek trusted referrals for programs that offer reliable financial and home foreclosure assistance. 6. Talk to a community or private mental health care provider, physician, spiritual leader, school counselor, or someone at a community health clinic. Understand that while we are living in very challenging times, there are many resources that are equipped and ready to offer assistance to us, our families, and the community- at-large. By taking positive steps to manage our emotional stress and by looking into the help and opportunities that are available to us, we will make it through this extremely difficult time!
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