Economic Troubles Fuel Depression
> 8/27/2009 3:24:29 PM

We all saw it coming. In the midst of the worst financial crisis in nearly a century, an increasing number of Americans now report symptoms of severe depression. Those whose finances have suffered the most in the downturn also face the lion's share of recession-fueled mental illness.
Very few Americans remain unaffected by the ongoing crisis. Whether suffering from uncertainty about jobs and insurance coverage, an ability to make mortage payments, or the depletion of life savings and retirement accounts, everyone seems at least a bit more anxious. Mental illness rates have begun to reflect this change, but far too few of those who need treatment can afford it.  
Depression is not only a genetic phenomenon. It often arises due to cirumstance and stresses in the lives of those who would probably not experience it otherwise, and very few events could be more traumatic than losing one's home. A study of 250 subjects in the greater Philadelphia area, all of whom were undergoing foreclosure, found that nearly half of them showed symptoms of depressive disorders and more than one-third currently qualifed for severe depression diagnoses. Previous studies noted slightly higher rates of depression among the very poor, but those numbers (12.8%) didn't come anywhere close to the stats noted in this survey.
The reasons behind these discouraging numbers are clear: beyond generally poor finances, subjects in the current study were nearly three times as likely to be uninsured than those in the general population whose homes were not in foreclosure. 10% of the survey group also named medical emergencies as the sole cause of their monetary woes and 25% stated that they owed considerable debts on unpaid medical bills. Behavioral symptoms among this group are dire as well: a majority (60%) reported foregoing meals and prescriptions because they didn't have enough money to pay for them. Preventive care and anxiety treatments have declined while unhealthy habits have increased: profits at fast-food restaurants like McDonalds continue to rise and 65% of smokers in the study reported smoking more cigarettes every day than they did before the crisis struck.
The American economy's downward spiral seems to have leveled off in recent weeks, but this trend brings little consolation to those living in such unfortunate circumstances. Homeowners in foreclosure or individuals on extended unemployment can only hope that their accumulated anxieties don't lead to health problems of their own. Mental health care is, unfortunately, not feasible for so many of the uninsured - especially those in foreclosure. Researchers suggest that affected subjects visit professional mortgage counselors and GPs who can encourage them to enroll in public insurance programs like SCHIP or Medicare. They also discourage drinking and smoking and note the importance of sleep, interpersonal contact and regular physical activity. The act of calling a friend or taking a walk when extremely stressed will not provide any long-term solutions, but it's certainly more productive than isolating oneself and obsessing over money.  

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