During tough economic times and the added stress of the holidays people start to exhibit more signs of mental health issues as stress starts to wear away their defenses. Drinking and drugs become more of a problem especially when low cost mental health care is unavailable.
They come in for counseling related to a DUI, but it turns out the alcohol was meant to kill the depression of a lost job, a lost house, a lost spouse — or maybe all three.
They ask for help with gas money or car repairs so they can make their therapy appointment.
They struggle to make co-payments.
They rush to take advantage of employee assistance programs — sometimes fearful they might lose their job, sometimes trying to grapple with their job loss before employee benefits expire.
Layoffs, corporate cutbacks, a tumbling stock market and the credit crunch have ratcheted stress to new levels, prompting many experts to connect the economic downturn to a recent uptick in requests for mental health services —even as some patients can hardly afford them.
Although most say it's too early to pinpoint the precise cause of the jump, anecdotal evidence from both caregivers and consumers suggests the failing economy has pushed more people toward therapeutic relief.
Variations on the theme have emerged all across the country — muted only slightly in Colorado, said George DelGrosso, executive director of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, a statewide association of community mental health centers.
"We're at the beginning stages of it," DelGrosso said. "As people are losing their jobs and health-insurance coverage is going away, they're experiencing depression or frustration at not making ends meet. You reach back to get the help you need, but often you find that your health-insurance coverage is not comprehensive enough."
First-timers seeking help
Tucked away in a maze of hallways at The Rainbow Center, a mental health drop-in facility in Thornton, the food bank and Santa Shop, where clients can find free gifts for their kids, do a brisker-than-usual business.
Group discussions veer into a tangle of troubling what-ifs about jobs, housing and Medicaid. Calls to the crisis team have spiked — including a couple of suicide threats.
Program director Gloria Anderson has taken at least eight calls this month from people who've never before asked for help.
"They're at the end of their rope — they don't know what to do," said the 62-year-old Anderson, whose own diagnosis of depression, post-traumatic stress and personality disorder helps her empathize with the callers' plight.
Effects of long-term economic trouble could reach deep into family life, said Mitchell Berdie, psychologist and product director of Anthem EAP, which handles employee assistance programs for 3 million members nationwide, including many in Colorado.
"If this is the early stage, what happens next year, if it drags on?" Berdie said. "The longer stress goes on within a family, the more likely it is to impact all members of that family."
The Denver Post