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Where We Are Now

Steve Jobs was a genius.  The technology savant – the unique “I” behind the iPhone, iPad, and iPod – knew what our media- and gadget-hungry society wanted, often before we knew it ourselves.  But even Steve Jobs could never have created the device most of us would love to get our hands on right now.  I’m thinking of a technological marvel that would absolutely fly off the shelves this coming holiday shopping season.  It would be a variation of a GPS unit – the “where are we and how do we get there” wonder – called an “FPS”: a “financial-positioning system”.  It would be capable of answering the question that is on almost everyone’s lips: How much longer before our economy starts to recover?

It’s been over three years, by my reckoning, since our economic downturn made itself depressingly obvious.  I’m a psychotherapist.  Depression is a part of my profession.  My job is to help people explore the issues, both past and present, behind their anger, hopelessness, anxiety, obsessions, and addictions.  With the help of my staff, I enable my patients to address and resolve their lingering traumas so that they can realistically and practically move forward in positive ways.  My job has never been an easy one, but these last three years have brought a dismayingly large number of struggling individuals, couples, and families through my doors.  I’ve been in private practice for over forty years and, frankly, I’ve never seen it this bad.

Despite some news reports that a least a partial recovery is underway, I don’t think things are getting better. I think that in some ways people are becoming more accepting of the distresses, but I don’t think our situation is getting better at all.  In fact, I believe things have gotten worse because of the intense level of stress that people have been under these last three-and-a-half years. I see that the needs of the community now are greater than ever, because people are starting to wear down. I think our economic downtown is finally taking a toll on people’s health in much more severe ways.

Last week, a New York Times article reviewed a health study of people living in communities hit with high foreclosure rates.  The results from the National Bureau of Economic Research indicated that massive foreclosures were not just a financial epidemic, but “a bona fide health crisis”.  The statistics were alarming.  Over one-third of homeowners surveyed had symptoms of major depression.  In an effort to save money, people were skipping doctor appointments and leaving prescriptions unfilled.  Significantly higher levels of suicide attempts, emergency room visits, heart failure, high blood pressure, and diabetes were observed as compared to communities where foreclosure was less of a menacing presence.

At the Bernstein Institute, we’ve seen financial stress turn into serious health complications, too; we know that this is true.  Prolonged unemployment or underemployment, homes lost to foreclosure, diminished outlooks and opportunities just wear people down.

These distressing realities are also beginning to affect how people relate.  They have a certain underlying desperation that gets expressed as anger, upset, and frustration.  They have short tempers.  Often they don’t act rationally.  Underneath the anger, they’re desperately afraid of what’s happening.  There’s no hope in sight, they fear, no relief coming.  What happened to the promised assistance from the government and President Obama that hasn’t come through? 

Instead of anger, some people feel defeated, victimized, and despairing.   They’re distressed at how they’re being treated by the banks and corporations and how exploited they feel.  Banks are treating them like they’re to blame, it’s their fault, they should have been more responsible.  It’s absolutely not true.  While every one of us can learn new and better ways to manage money during this downturn, I believe most of the people now suffering with unemployment and foreclosure issues are decent, hard-working, good people.  The way I see it, and I know I’m not alone, the banks and corporations are responsible for much of what’s been happening.

Can we have hope?  I fervently believe so.  The events of my life, past and present, and the successes in my patients’ lives are a testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit and to our capacity for courage and strength.  The support we can offer each other in our relationships and community is priceless.  Stay with me, and I’ll share the reason for my hope with you.