By Jon Mattleman
You can’t open a newspaper, watch a news broadcast, or go online without seeing a story about our crumbling economy. And this is not just happening somewhere else in the country --- take a look at your friends or neighbors in Needham and chances are you know of a person who has lost their job entirely or has seen their earning reduced to a level that makes it virtually impossible to pay their bills.
The Town of Needham is very much aware of the financial crunch and the impact upon residents. Toward that end the Needham Youth Commission spearheaded an effort to provide residents with resources, and this document can be found online at: http://www.needhamma.gov/DocumentView.asp?DID=2031.
It is widely held that there is a direct relationship between economic turndown and mental health/at-risk behaviors. According to M. Harvey Brenner, Professor of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland: "We ordinarily experience much, much higher rates of suicide during times of recession.” According to Brenner as many as 1,200 more suicides could happen as a result of the current recession. There have been several high profile suicides which can be directly traced to that person’s desperation about their financial situation, so it may appear to the general public that this is common…but in my experience, it is not. I believe that the media is mostly to blame as they often take isolated or rare instances and make it seem as if they are commonplace. It reminds me of the news stories which come like clockwork each summer warning about shark attacks --- making it seem as if going into any body of water at any time anywhere in the world is dangerous.
While some might depute the claim that suicide attempts or completed suicides increase in relationship to a declining economy, it is universally accepted that stress levels do soar during such times. During unsettled financial periods it is common for people to feel low levels of stress as well as acute moments of feeling overwhelmed, not to mention full blown anxiety attacks.
If you are experiencing stress about the economy and/or your finances, below are a few tips that you might want to consider:
• If you are in a relationship --- Money can be a significant source of stress in relationships. If one partner feels overwhelmed or panics, it is important that the other person provide stability and support so that both don’t spiral downward together.
• If you have kids --- Be honest with your children as well as age-appropriate in explaining how the financial crunch is impacting the family. Be positive, reassuring, and ask them if they have any fears. Children look to parents for information and guidance, and parents need to model behavior which illustrates that they are coping appropriately also.
• If you are retired, single, and/or alone --- Clearly this is a time of unprecedented concern for our economy…but the reality is that we have faced difficult times in the past and ultimately triumphed. Make certain to share your feelings with others and keep connected with friends.
• Generally speaking, for all people it is important to:
o Try to keep a positive attitude
o Exercise and stay active
o Learn to accept what you cannot control
o Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
o Get plenty of sleep/rest
o Limit or eliminate alcohol/drug use
o Seek out social supports
o Laugh – this is one of the most effective stress reducers
o Get help from friends or a professional if you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or at risk for self injury.
It would be great if we could push a button and zoom ahead 5 years and see that we have all survived this turbulent economic period…if we could do so, we probably could all breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately we cannot do this; so in the meantime let’s have hope, faith, and both give and get support from others.
Do you remember the advertisement for the hair restoration company that was on the air relentlessly a few years ago? The “catch-line” was “I am not only the president of this company, I am also a client.” Well the same applies to me “I am not only the author of this article, but I am also feeling stressed about finances”….so I am re-reading my own piece to remind myself of how to stay mentally healthy during this stressful period.
Jon Mattleman is the director of the Needham Youth Commission. His blog also appears on the Youth Commission web site at: needhamma.gov/youthcommission. He will periodically update the blog with ideas, stories and information for youth and parents. Contact Jon with issues or topics you would like him to address at: JMattleman@town.needham.ma.us