November 26, 2008

Depression on the Rise Due to Poor Economy, Pre-Holiday Angst

By Jackie Jones

Ho, ho, ho, hum.

The holiday season seems to start earlier and end later nowadays, and with the economy in the tank, the unemployment rate climbing and investments and retirement funds being battered, it’s hard to look at Thanksgiving next week and find a whole lot to be thankful for.

The American Psychiatric Association reported almost that half of Americans it surveyed in September said they were increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs, and eight out of 10 said the economy was a significant cause of stress, up from 66 percent in April.

Experts, however, say not only can you weather economic setbacks, but you can come through the holidays emotionally intact.

The first step is taking care of yourself.

Overeating, eating badly or irregularly, overspending, smoking and drinking more alcohol than usual are ineffective at managing stress and could create health problems, raising stress, not lowering it.

“Pay attention to what’s happening around you, but refrain from getting caught up in doom-and-gloom hype. Take stock of your particular situation and what causes you stress. Reach out to family, friends and trusted advisors. Research shows that receiving support from others is effective in managing stress,” psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice, said in a news release accompanying the association’s survey results.

For many people, however, losing a job means a loss of identity.

Experts say it is important to understand the nature of work is changing in America. It is unlikely that anyone will spend an entire career with one industry, much less one company. Constantly updating one’s skills, paying attention to growth areas and being in a position to take advantage of change is critical.

Human Resources experts, career coaches and therapists also say to acknowledge the pain of losing your job, and find a healthy way to vent your frustrations. Don’t play cool and act as if you’ve got it all under control. That doesn’t mean you should go off in the office, but not dealing with your pain is a sure-fire way to slow your recovery.

For those struggling with depression even in the best of times, economic uncertainty just makes the holidays even more difficult, but they shouldn’t feel pressured to do more than they can handle, experts say.

“It’s more difficult for everybody, but for people who feel even ordinarily out of tune with the holidays when everyone else is feeling enthusiastic, they’re feeling even worse,” said John Head, author of “Standing in the Shadows, Black Men and Depression,” which chronicled his 25-year struggle with depression.

Head said that people are wrestling with whether to go ahead and spend and be depressed later about spending themselves into debt that they may or may not be able to pay for or, conversely, not spend and feel bad that they can’t give like they used to.

“I think that it really makes it a difficult time all around,” he said.

Holidays exacerbate those feelings, Head told, because “that’s something that we’ve been taught - that we should be thinking about other people and giving.”

One way to give and not feel bad about it is to consider smaller gifts, something homemade or gifts of time – say setting aside time to do something special with a loved one, giving homemade baked goods or doing a chore for someone that might be difficult for them or give them some needed break time.

“These are the kind of things we may have grown up with, but after a while we started thinking, ‘I’m beyond that now,’” Head said.

With his own family and friends, Head said, “I tell them, ‘I’m going to do something for you, and it will be what I can do,’ and I tell my sons it’s not about getting some big gift to try to impress me. I try to be honest with people, and a lot of people understand. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I don’t do something just to impress someone.”

For those who are finding it hard to shake guilt or the blues, however, getting help can make all the difference, too, especially if the feelings of depression linger.

“It’s important to know help is available and to take steps to get that help,” John Preston, a board-certified neuropsychologist in California and author of “You Can Beat Depression: A Guide To Prevention & Recovery,” told “Over 80 percent of people who seek depression help see improvements in their symptoms.”

Reprinted from Black America

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