[YSPNetwork] Fw: re: Children amidst the economic crisis
kdwolfe at prodigy.net
Sat Jun 27 09:23:09 PDT 2009
Well-written article. Kirk
--- On Sat, 6/27/09, David Fassler <dfassler at vtpsych.com> wrote:
From: David Fassler <dfassler at vtpsych.com>
Subject: re: Children amidst the economic crisis
To: "David Fassler" <dfassler at vtpsych.com>
Date: Saturday, June 27, 2009, 6:36 AM
Gregory K. Fritz: Children amidst the economic crisis
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, June 26, 2009
GREGORY K. FRITZ
IN AN ECONOMIC COLLAPSE such as we’re experiencing today, children are susceptible to the fallout. Children in families whose circumstances are changed because of the loss of a parent’s job or a foreclosure on their house have anxiety, depression and a variety of other psychiatric symptoms at rates not seen when the economy is thriving. Unfortunately, the increased need for child mental-health services comes when hospitals, clinics and mental-health centers are least able to provide them.
During a family financial crisis stressed parents unintentionally stress their children. Children’s cognitive immaturity, lack of worldly experience and dependence on their parents make them vulnerable to picking up on and amplifying their parents’ concerns. The resulting emotional distress, physical symptoms, anxiety and behavioral difficulties further stress the parents, creating a vicious circle that often requires professional intervention to avoid serious consequences.
In an economic downturn as serious as this one, the signs of adults being stressed are common and obvious. The sale of alcoholic beverages goes up, although they are often consumed at home (where it’s cheaper) as an escape.
Financial problems lead to relationship problems, in which children may witness parental arguments, alienation and even domestic violence. Divorces don’t necessarily climb, perhaps because even couples who are miserable continue to live together for financial reasons: They can’t afford two residences, the house won’t sell, and divorce lawyers are costly. Child abuse increases in frequency and severity during economically bad times as well. Job loss, eviction and repeated rejection as they search for work can be the last straw for some parents already near the edge, resulting in a child’s worst nightmare, abuse at the hands of a parent.
It doesn’t happen immediately, but child-mental-health professionals are beginning to see the emotional fallout of the bad economy. Children who already have psychiatric disorders start doing worse as family stress disturbs their precarious equilibrium. Young children’s sense of security and stability can be threatened if they perceive their parents as unable to care for them.
Previously healthy school-age children may present with new symptoms of anxiety or depression. Adolescents recognize their families’ problems in detail but have limited opportunities to contribute to solutions. They worry about what their own future will be like in a society that appears to be crumbling around them. In the extreme, teenagers have tried suicide because they feared they were a burden to their struggling families.
The same financial pressures that weigh heavily on families affect the institutions and systems that provide mental-health services, taxing their ability to meet the increased demand. In every hospital, the number of patients with no insurance who need free care has increased substantially, elective procedures are being postponed so volume is down, and the rate of bad debt is up – all of which conspire to force cutbacks in unreimbursed service. Parents who have lost their jobs have also lost their insurance, so they have to prioritize their medical expenses, put off treatment that is paid for “out of pocket” for as long as possible, and even consider the cost of gasoline to get to appointments. To paraphrase an old aphorism, a “falling tide grounds all boats.”
It’s pretty difficult to find any positive aspects to the economic meltdown, although there are inspirational stories that help keep spirits up as we wait for a turnaround. Descriptions of communities or groups pulling together to help the neediest, even when the helpers are stretched thin themselves, are very moving; they point to the essential goodness of most people and help maintain my faith in the human spirit. Families do well to make sure these stories get prime time attention during dinner.
Financial hard times also serve to remind us that what really matters to children’s development are not consumer goods, not the icons of pop culture, not every material advantage of their peers. What matters is having parents who love them and show it, who live their lives in ways that let them be role models for their children, and who meet life’s challenges with dignity and determination. Listening to children, letting them participate in family coping strategies, reassurance that “we’ll always have each other,” and maintaining family values in the face of adversity don’t cost anything and are sometimes undervalued. Maybe the recession, difficult as it is, can serve as a useful reminder.
Gregory K. Fritz, an occasional contributor, is academic director at Bradley Hospital and editor of the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter.
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