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The steep downturn in the U.S. economy and the accompanying rise in unemployment have caused financial hardship for millions of Americans. The recession is also having a negative impact on Americans' mental health. A new national survey, recently released in conjunction with a U.S. Mental Health Awareness campaign, finds that unemployed Americans are far more likely than those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness.
Money troubles are causing mental stress
The survey of almost one thousand adult Americans was conducted for two independent mental health advocacy groups. David Shern, president of Mental Health America, says the survey clearly shows that for many people, financial distress is translating into serious psychological distress, and in some cases, to thoughts of suicide.
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"People who are unemployed are at substantially higher risk for ideas of harming themselves. In fact they are four times more likely to report that they had thoughts of harming themselves in contrast with individuals who are employed. Even for people who are employed, those who have been forced to make a change in their employment during the last year are twice as likely to meet the criterion for severe mental difficulties as individuals who have not had a forced change," Shern says.
He also says that Americans who were forced to take a pay cut or forced to work fewer hours are also five times more likely to report feeling hopeless than individuals who hadn't experienced those involuntary changes.
Those who need help are less likely to be able to afford it
Not surprisingly, the study notes that unemployed Americans are six times as likely as those with jobs to have difficulty meeting household expenses. But Shern says that creates another problem, because 42 percent of jobless survey respondents said either the prohibitive costs or their lack of insurance coverage prevented them from seeking professional mental health care
"Affordability and universal insurance coverage are both important issues here. What we recommend for individuals who are concerned about their health care and they cannot afford it is that they contact the community mental health agencies in their communities. Most communities have a community mental health agency that provides what we call safety net services for people. However, like all aspects of the human services system, they are extremely stressed by the economic circumstances as well," Shern says.
Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the non-profit National Alliance on Mental Illness, says his group co-sponsored the survey to alert the public that, like the troubled economy itself, emotional depression can be remedied.
"The message we really want to put out today is that depression is very treatable by a combination of talk therapy and antidepressants. There is a recent research that shows that almost 80 percent of people who receive treatment get better," Fitzpatrick says.
Free mental health screenings and referrals may be available
Fitzpatrick says his organization is using the survey results during Mental Health Awareness Week to urge Americans to seek free psychiatric screenings to find out if their financial anxieties might really be a far more serious case of depression.
"There are free depression screening events in over a thousand communities around this country, mental health professionals are on site to assist with referrals. There are 1100 affiliates around the country who are ready and willing to talk to people experiencing depression, and to their families. We have a number of free sources of information as well as educational programs that are readily available," Fitzpatrick says.
Mental health advocates believe that while the U.S. economy is starting to turn around in terms of housing sales and industrial production, it will take a little longer for the jobless rate to decline. In the meantime, they say, addressing the critical mental health needs of millions of financially-imperiled Americans will contribute to a healthier economic recovery for the nation.