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Foreclosures, job losses, dwindling retirement funds create more stress

Mental health issues up with poor economy

The steady stream of foreboding news about the economy, job losses and home foreclosures can not help having a negative mental effect on the population. Mental health professionals are observing an increase in anxiety levels and in some cases an increasing number of patients as economic worries escalate.

The staff at the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center is seeing a fair number of people being affected directly or indirectly by losing jobs.

“One lady told me her husband got laid off with no warning after 15 years of working for a business,” said psychologist and director of the Adult Outpatient Program Steve Barrilleaux. “They heard through a phone call that the business had closed. Her spouse had to go to another state to find work, and they have to tighten their belts and cut back on spending.”

Belt tightening is happening all over as clients worry about the uncertain future. He says any issues going on with patients will get worse as the anxiety level rises. Those persons with lower income, fixed income or who are disabled are anxiously watching as prices increase for many goods and services.

“People are worried and have feelings of helplessness,” Barrilleaux said. “It’s escalating and coming at a time when many who need mental health counseling can’t afford it.”

As a non-profit organization, the center is facing a decrease in funding. Medicare re-imbursements are not paid for counseling received from master’s-degree level professionals. That leaves Barrilleaux, who has a Ph.D., and one other staff professional to see those patients.

“Funding is tight,” he said. “If we lose a staff member, that person will not be replaced.”

Bob Corban said the state of the economy is affecting everyone’s mindset that he and his staff see. He is director of behavioral health at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

“That concern includes those of us who work here, too,” he said. “Some patients present these worries as a primary concern, and we are seeing those with job losses. Those who haven’t been affected wonder if they’ll be next, and everybody knows someone affected. There’s general anxiety because people are reading what’s in the newspaper and seeing what’s on CNN.”

The center contracts with some area businesses to run an Employee Assistance Program. It is also observing cut backs and employment fears with those businesses.

“We take a common sense approach, and our counseling is action based on things people can do,” Corban said. “If you are still employed, do everything in your power to stand out and be the best employee there.”

The tough-times advice for those out of work stresses grabbing hold of something you can do something about. It may be getting more exercise and more sleep to feel better while coping with problems. Or it could be stopping or cutting back on the use of chemicals or doing something different with family members.

“You can meditate about a problem all day long, but that won’t do anything about it,” Corban said. “Do something you can control — live within your means and face reality.”

He and his staff also furnish information about job resources, networking and training that is available in the area.

Barrilleaux agreed and said he offers encouragement and listens to concerns. “We do give advice on ways to cut back and help people explore options, but we’re not financial counselors. Many are doing things they don’t want to do,” he added.

Randy Kirksey, director of Memorial Hospital at Gulfport’s Behavioral Health Center, is not seeing an influx of patients due to the economy, but does see a number who are concerned about the loss of retirement funds.

“They are worried about their retirement funds and looking at working longer,” he said. “We’re also seeing other life stressors that are related to the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Most people have moved on but some still need permanent housing.”

At the non-profit mental health center, Barrilleaux is involved with residents still struggling with housing issues. The several thousand cottages in which some are living will be pulled out by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in March.

There is only a small amount of low-rental property available.
“There’s a sense of futility. This helplessness is a major factor of how depression happens, and that leads to despair,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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