Recession Depression: What it is and How it Affects You

by Shonnie Brown, MFT

A Definition of Recession Depression

The term "recession depression" is currently being used to describe feelings of depression and anxiety that are directly related to our national and local economic crisis. Feelings include but are not limited to excessive stress and worry, shame, feelings of demoralization, helplessness and hopelessness.

Symptoms of Recession Depression

One is likely to feel symptoms of stress and anxiety as well as symptoms of depression. Symptoms of depression include lack of sleep or too much sleep, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, feelings of doom about the future, recurrent thoughts of death, apathy or loss of motivation/interest in life and feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms of anxiety include excessive worry and rumination, panic attacks and fear of simply "losing it". Other recession depression symptoms include excessive rage, severe stress in personal/family relationships, demoralizing feelings of shame and compulsive behavior such as excessive drinking, smoking or eating. All of these feelings are in response to a sense of loss of control over one's life and one's future. It is important to understand that with appropriate help and self-care all the symptoms of recession depression are treatable.

Pathological Responses to Recession Depression

It is most unfortunate that some people become completely despondent and don't seek the help that is available to them. There are many reported cases in which people with recession depression have acted in ways that are harmful to themselves or family members, often resulting in death. In Mendota, California with a 41% jobless rate, alcoholism and crime are on the rise with unemployed men wandering the streets. The national Hopeline telephone network for suicidality has reported the number of calls rising each month since November 2007. What is important to note is that the economic recession has caused a general trend of downward mental health spiraling among all segments of our population in a wide variety of ways.

The Relationship Between Economic Stress and Mental Health

In November 2008, eight out of 10 Americans reported the economy to be a significant life stressor. According to Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford Center on Stress and Health, a study done many years ago looked at the mental hospitalization rates for a 100-year period and found them to be directly related to the rate of economic depression.

Spiegel notes: "We've seen people in the ER, suicidal or depressed or both, because they've lost their jobs. They have had a whole change in their sense of self-worth and they don't see a way out. (Many people) are realizing, 'The life I had planned out carefully is different now. I can't retire when I thought I would,' or 'I don't have the money to take care of my kids.' With all this uncertainty, you know there's something bad out there, but you don't know the magnitude of it and there's nothing you can do about it."

It is this uncertainty or lack of control over one's life which causes both the despair and panic of recession depression. Occupational psychologist Cary L. Cooper, author of "Theories of Organizational Stress", notes: "Research over the last couple of decades has shown that people who feel they have no control over the job they do are likely to get a stress related illness. But for many people these days, jobs are just insecure... And this is a major source of stress and a major potential source of stress related illness."

So we can only imagine the amount of stress one feels when one doesn't have the work needed to provide a living for oneself and one's family.

Recession Depression and Sense of Self

When I think of the severe impact that recession depression has on one's self esteem, the word that most comes to mind is demoralization, which the dictionary defines as "depression resulting from an undermining of your morale" and "disorder resulting from a failure to behave predictably."

Our individual ego relies on a certain degree of predictability or structure to help one feel tethered to the earth. Demoralization occurs when the ability to provide for the basics of existence is taken away with no ability to repair. With this sense of demoralization, a downward spiraling begins which makes the individual feel increasingly stuck and helpless to change the accompanying sense of hopelessness and lack of self-worth. What is required when this process begins is an increase of structure in a new form, increased hope and motivation. These feelings do not return naturally. We must recreate them by taking certain small steps and building on them.

Rebuilding the Sense of Self

When one is at their most hopeless, pro-active strategies are required. Here is a list of some of the things you can do to pull yourself up when you feel the despair of recession depression:

  1. Be aware that the stress of economic anxiety can easily turn into clinical depression. Get help if you feel yourself spiraling downward.
  2. Talking about your situation helps. Seek a counselor, safe friend or a support group so that you know you're not alone.
  3. Seek medical/psychological help if you have thoughts of self-harm, feelings of doom or recurrent thoughts about death.
  4. Consider traditional antidepressant medications or effective herbs and supplements specifically for depression.
  5. Be pro-active about your situation. Resist the tendency to isolate and withdraw. Do anything that feels constructive.
  6. Talk to yourself positively even if you don't feel positive. Negative self-talk never helps anything.
  7. Use a time of unemployment to explore new possibilities.
  8. Volunteer or enroll in classes or workshops to develop new interests or hidden talents.
  9. Pay attention to healthy eating habits such as reduced intake of sugar and awareness of food allergies. An excellent article entitled "How to Avoid Recession Depression Naturally" appears on the blog of Myles Spar, MD.
  10. Be aware of the affects of your depression on your partner, family and friends. Relaxation techniques and meditation will help you take responsibility for your emotional, physical and mental health.
If you need help with recession depression, please click here for information about free Recession Depression Workshops (PDF file).

©2005-2015 Shonnie Brown, Chinn Street Counseling Center; all rights reserved.