Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Economy sends more people to therapy

Anxious Tennesseans fear losing their jobsBy Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • April 8, 2009 Anxious, depressed and stressed-out Tennesseans are turning to the mental health system in droves to cope with the emotional toll of the economic downturn. "Anxiety is going through the roof," said Dr. Thomas Lavie, medical director of the Vanderbilt Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic, which has seen a surge of new patients reporting mood disorders, panic attacks, insomnia and other problems stemming from their fears about their jobs, their ability to provide for their families and their economic future. They're not alone. Eighty percent of Americans named the economy as a significant source of stress in their lives, in a September survey by the American Psychological Association. Tennessee's unemployment rate hit 9.1 percent in February, and while 89.9 percent of us are still employed, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't wondered — and worried — whether their workplace might be the next one hit by layoffs. "More people are scheduling therapy," said Carlton Cornett, a Nashville-based licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. "Our most basic need in life is security … when your job is threatened, or you lose your job, that's a frontal assault on your sense of security, your sense of self-worth, your perception of your ability to provide for your loved ones." Until recently, he said, it seemed that more people were canceling therapy sessions, viewing counseling as a luxury they couldn't afford. Now, with stress levels rising, more patients seem to see therapy and counseling as a near-necessity. "They're just feeling so bad, whether it's a luxury or not, they had to do it," he said. And all that stress is taking its toll. The same survey found more people reporting stress-related physical and emotional problems in 2008 than the year before. Reports of exhaustion, irritability, sleeplessness and anger all jumped about 50 percent over the previous year's survey. At the Mental Health Association of Tennessee, calls are pouring in from callers who have lost their jobs and are struggling with the financial and emotional toll. Some 44 percent of callers have no insurance to help cover the cost of mental health treatment. And it's not just the newly unemployed who are calling in for help. "For the first time in several years, over the past few months we have also received several calls from individuals who are experiencing anxiety over working in an environment in which layoffs are occurring, even if that individual's job is directly not affected," said Noel Riley-Philpo of the Mental Health Association of Tennessee. People are worried about finding work or keeping their job. They're watching retirement savings bleed away in the stock market. They're dogged by overdue bills, creditors' calls and looming mortgage payments. For many, that stress builds up into feelings of anger, fear and anxiety. "About once a day, I see a patient who is expressing concerns or fears about the pending loss of a job, either them or their spouse," said Nashville psychiatrist Dr. Greg Kyser. Some miss payments For the patients he was already seeing, economic concerns on top of the issues they were dealing with have become "an added source of stress." Adding to counselors' stress is the fact that a growing number of patients are having trouble paying their bills or missing payments, said Kyser, past president of the Tennessee Psychiatric Association. In some instances, Kyser and his patients are working out payment plans. So what's a therapist to do when a patient comes to him, worried about the economy? He can't do anything about the stock market or the jobless rate. Kyser finds himself writing more prescriptions for drugs like Prozac to help patients ride out the ups and downs. For Cornett, the downturn is an opportunity to help people see that there is more to life than where they work and what they earn. Therapy "gives them a place to come and talk about their sense of failure, their sense that they are not of value to anybody if they can't provide for their families. For a long time, there's been a sense in our society that your only value is how much you work, how much you make," Cornett said. "There are a lot of things more important than work. There are the people we love, there's staying engaged, there's having a support network of friends and people who are important to us."

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