Economic Woes Add to Winter Blues, Mental Health Concerns

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The National Council for Community and Behavioral Healthcare -- a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) association representing 1,300 organizations nationwide -- has been tracking increases in the number of new patients being admitted to mental health centers for symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The loss of jobs and benefits is very stressful, so we are seeing more people facing depression, anxiety and psycho-somatic illnesses

Last month economists finally confirmed something many people already knew; the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007.

The ongoing financial crisis may be causing additional stress and anxiety during the winter months when frigid temperatures, long periods of darkness and the after effects of stress-inducing holidays can lead people to feel profound sadness. Additionally, with the record number of Americans who are losing their jobs each month, it is hard for anyone to feel secure. These factors combined with the uncertainty of government leaders about how long the crisis will last - or what it will take to turn the economy around - can only exacerbate people's feelings of uneasiness.

Sometimes referred to as the "winter blues," people's deepening feelings of anxiousness can often spread to the entire family. Marital fights flare up as spouses argue about overdue holiday bills and couples ask themselves "What do we do now?" Hearing parents argue and sensing family tension can trigger mental health disorders in children.

A recent poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that almost half of all adults said they are increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family's basic needs. In fact, about 8 out of 10 adults said that the economy is a significant cause of stress, up from 66 percent in April.

The state of the economy is affecting mental health jobs as well. The National Council advocates for policies that ensure that people who are ill can access services. However, tough times are forcing states to reevaluate their allocation of funds. Often times this leads to mental health associations and care centers losing funding. This timing is unfortunate as community mental health centers nationwide have seen an upsurge in the number of new patients in recent months.

"The loss of jobs and benefits is very stressful, so we are seeing more people facing depression, anxiety and psycho-somatic illnesses," said Janice Wilson, CEO of the NorthShore Health Centers in Portage, IN, where 75 percent of new patients in recent weeks are being referred for conditions related to job loss or the worsening economy.

The Black Hawk-Grundy Mental Health Center in Waterloo, IA is expecting a 25 percent increase in the number of new mental health patients this year compared to last year. While some of the new cases are people with psychiatric conditions caused by a string of recent disasters in the area, others are people suffering from anxiety and depression brought on by the economic downturn.

To help cope with what appears to be a long-term economic downturn, people can follow some simple guidelines:

  •     Focus on positive aspects of your life. Look to family and friends to support you.
  •     Exercise, maintain a healthy diet and a normal sleep schedule -- physical and mental health are connected.
  •     Plan for the future as much as you can. The more action you can take, the more in control you'll be and the less stressed you'll feel.
  •     Try to take a long view. Realize that it may be bad yesterday, it may be bad today, but that things over time will get better.
  •     Volunteer and look for ways to answer the needs of your local community. Helping others will take your mind off your own worries and give you a sense of accomplishment.
  •     Take charge of your immediate environment. If you're troubled by media coverage and conversations about the worsening economy, change channels, turn the page, or excuse yourself from the conversation.

If sadness and anxiety begin to adversely affect normal functioning - relationships, work, sleep, appetite and sex -- professional help may be needed. Community mental health providers around the country can be located through the "Find a Provider" feature on the National Council's web site http://www.TheNationalCouncil.org.

About The National Council:

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for- profit, 501(c)(3) association of 1,400 behavioral healthcare organizations that provide treatment and rehabilitation for mental illnesses and addictions disorders to nearly six million adults, children and families in communities across the country. The National Council and its members bear testimony to the fact that medical, social, psychological and rehabilitation services offered in community settings help people with mental illnesses and addiction disorders recover and lead productive lives. Learn more at http://www.TheNationalCouncil.org.

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