US Economic Crisis Takes Toll on Mental Health

by VR Sreeraman on Oct 9 2008 3:53 PM

 US Economic Crisis Takes Toll on Mental Health
The murder suicide of a Los Angeles financial manager who shot dead five members of his family before shooting himself has highlighted the psychological toll of the economic meltdown.
The bodies of Karthik Rajaram, a 45 year old business school graduate, and his wife, three children and mother in law, were discovered at his home in an upmarket gated community on Monday.

In a letter to police, Rajaram said he had been driven to murder because of his dire economic situation: already unemployed for several months, his remaining finances were reportedly wiped out by Wall Street's collapse.

Rajaram's tragic case has become a grim symbol of the US financial crisis. Or as Los Angeles deputy police chief Michael Moore put it, "a perfect American family destroyed by a man stuck in a rabbit hole of absolute despair."

The Los Angeles case came less than a week after a 90 year old woman in Ohio shot herself as she was about to served an eviction notice on the home she has lived in for the past 38 years.

The two harrowing incidents have drawn attention to the mental health impact associated with the most serious US financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, experts say.

Chicago based psychologist Nancy Molitor told AFP the numbers of people seeking help because of finance related anxiety had skyrocketed.

"In my 20 years of practice I have never seen anything like this, the anxiety is through the roof," Molitor told AFP, estimating she had seen a 50 percent increase in volume of calls.

The sense of bewilderment caused by financial crisis was comparable to the effect of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Molitor said, impacting people of varying ages and backgrounds.

"This compares to 9/11 in terms of the impact, definitely. And it's significant that it isn't a Wall Street crisis as I see it, it's affecting the entire consumer economy, and almost every individual that I see.

"It's not just affecting adults, it's affecting the children. I had one 14 year old who came to see me and said 'I'm worried my parents are going to go broke, because they're arguing more.'

"It's filtered down to almost every household I deal with. I've never seen something that has affected such a wide range of people."

Molitor said the problems varied greatly: affluent people who had lost a million dollars; couples fretting over the ability to pay for college tuition, or in one case, a 79 year old woman who "couldn't afford to die."

"I thought she was kidding," Molitor said. "But she told me 'I used to have a pretty good inheritance that I could leave my three children. If I die tomorrow they're going to get half of what they were going to get.'"

Judith Bardwick, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, said the tidal wave of grim economic headlines had exacerbated widespread feelings of impotence in an era of job insecurity.

"It is a sense of fear, depression and anxiety that says no matter how hard or well I work, I have no control over my future," Bardwick said. "So the present stinks and the future will be worse. And there's no one to help me.

"In a period of fiscal crisis, in which very visibly major institutions fail or are bailed out, and the market is riding a rollercoaster, the number of people who have these despairing views of life will naturally increase."

The fact that the macroeconomic causes of the meltdown were not easily explained added to the sense of impotence, Molitor said.

"It's a perfect storm because what breeds anxiety is a fear of the unknown," she explained. "I had a very bright person with a PhD in economics who said to me 'Even I don't get it. And if I don't get it, how is the average person managing a household supposed to get it?'"

"There's a sense of total helplessness, which if it goes on long enough becomes hopelessness. And if that goes on long enough it becomes depression."

In Los Angeles, authorities are urging anyone in despair to seek professional help immediately.

Ken Kondo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, said a 24 hour service was available for anyone seeking help.

"One in five people in the United States will experience mental illness and these stressors from the economic crisis could trigger that," Kondo said.

"What we're saying is that people should talk to friends and family members, don't try and handle it by yourself. And if they feel chronically depressed or suicidal, seek professional mental health help right away."


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