Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Economic Turmoil and Mental Health

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Economic Turmoil and Mental Health

Article excerpt

Over the last few months, at least a dozen people have sought my advice about their finances amid the current housing and financial meltdown. It's been a startling experience. With their personal finances tumbling and despair setting in, these folks have been desperate for solutions.

The problem is I don't know any more than they do about the complexities of the current crisis. I'm a psychiatrist, not a financial adviser.

But I do have a sense of why many are turning to us in search of answers: This economic turmoil is causing overwhelming stress and anxiety. Although folks are framing their questions in terms of finances, I believe they are searching for answers about their stress and anxiety. Some people are battling serious depression, which can be life threatening. Others suffer with insomnia, the beginnings of posttraumatic stress disorder, and subthreshold variations of PTSD, which are now being better recognized. Still others are experiencing problems of identity and decreased self-esteem and are blaming themselves for circumstances outside their control.

I'm afraid that some people are not eating properly, which can lead to multiple physical problems. Now factor in those millions of people with some underlying mental disorders who had been doing relatively well before the current slowdown, and we get a sense of the magnitude of this problem from a psychological perspective. People are hurting. The emotional turmoil caused by economic pressures is bound to have a cultural and societal effect for decades to come. And these problems have broad implications for our field and our patients.

We know that the generation that lived through the Great Depression tended to be frugal, fearful, and overly cautious about saving, spending, and investing. The depression generation also instilled in its offspring a tendency toward excessive worry.

So, just as therapists began to hear a few years ago about anxiety and worry from patients with Great Depression-era parents, the current crisis is creating a generation of adults with fears and anxieties. The manifestation of this turmoil will hinge on underlying family dynamics. Some people will figure it out on their own; others will seek psychotherapeutic help. I hope that this help focuses on cognitive-behavioral processes, including my own learning, philosophising, and action (LPA) technique.

For those seriously disturbed and unable to function--whether from this current financial crisis or from an underlying mental illnesses--there is no substitute for psychiatric care. However, for many others, stress-reduction techniques can be used. One possible strategy is yoga, as I mentioned last year in a column on alternative and complementary medicine ("Yoga: A Beneficial Integrative Therapy," December 2007, p. 20). In that column, I quoted Astrud Castillo, a yoga instructor who teaches in California and New York, as saying that yoga helps to "quiet the mind." That is just what I refer to when discussing strategies of relaxation. I want patients to quiet the mind so that clearer thinking can emerge in dealing with stress and anxiety. Another strategy that can help patients so inclined is to participate in athletics. As I've written before, participating in athletics can reduce stress ("Treating Situational Anxiety," August 2008, p. 27).

Besides yoga and athletics, many other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies can prove to be great stress reducers. …

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