Self-care is even more important in tight economic times

Stella Tinglin admits that she loves shopping. But the resident and production coordinator for Nexon Publishing also concedes that the economic climate is having a serious impact on her spending habits.

“Any potential spur-of-the-moment purchases are being put on hold so that I can save some funds for Christmas presents,” Tinglin told the Georgia Straight. “My investments are a nightmare right now. I am very concerned about the economic crisis and the effect it’s had on my limited amount of RRSPs. I am truly dreading when the statement comes in the mail.”

The crisis is affecting everyone: if you’ve been fortunate enough not to have received a pink slip yet-like all of the artists and staff members of Ballet British Columbia-you might be worried you’re next. If, like Tinglin, you’ve even bothered to take a peek at your RRSPs-poof!-you’ve seen your savings disappear. Had your hopes up for a Christmas bonus this year? Good one. You’ll be lucky if your office is still having a staff party.

It’s all enough to cause chest pains. So much dismal financial news can take a serious toll on people’s well-being. Health experts around the world are urging people to take care of themselves and those around them.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s B.C. branch says that anyone who is excessively worried or depressed as a result of the economic climate should find support. “If it’s affecting you personally and impacting your daily life, you should get help,” Sarah Hamid-Balma, the branch’s director of public education and communications, told the Straight in a phone interview. “Anything can trigger a mental-health problem, including things in the news.”

We should be so lucky to have mental-health services at our fingertips. The fallout from the world’s financial malaise could be particularly severe for people living in developing nations, where access to treatment is limited or nonexistent.

“We should not be surprised or underestimate the turbulence and likely consequences of the current financial crisis,” said Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, at a November meeting of mental-health experts in Geneva. “It should not come as a surprise that we continue to see more stresses, suicides, and mental disorders.…As it is, we are seeing a huge gap in taking care of people in great need.”

Poverty and related factors such as violence, social exclusion, and “constant insecurity” are linked to the onset of mental disorders, Chan noted.

In the Kingdom, recent government findings warned of similar health consequences. An October report-headed by Rachel Jenkins, professor of epidemiology and international mental-health policy at the of at London’s King’s College-found that half of people in debt have a mental-health disorder compared to 16 percent of the population as a whole.

Those in debt have two to three times the rate of depression, three times the rate of psychosis, twice the rate of alcohol dependence, and four times the rate of drug dependence compared to the general population, the study noted.

To cope, the CMHA’s Hamid-Balma suggests the “SOS” approach: dealing with the situation; taking care of ourselves; and seeking support.

“If you’re closer to retirement or struggling to make rent or have changes in property coming up…seek relevant advice. Don’t make any spur-of-the-moment decisions,” she explained.

“Self-care is the most important thing, and yet it’s the first thing we forget about,” she added. “That means getting enough sleep, eating properly, connecting with people, exercising-all the simple, common-sense things that are protective of mental health.

“Seek support either from a mental-health professional or from friends and family or both,” Hamid-Balma said. “It helps to find out you’re not the only one going through this.”

Signs of depression, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, include feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or helplessness; sleeping or eating more or less than usual; trouble concentrating or making decisions; avoiding other people; overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief; extreme fatigue; and thoughts of death or suicide.

People suffering from anxiety disorders experience intense, prolonged feelings of fear, unease, or distress.

Among the types of anxiety disorders are panic disorder, which causes physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath; and generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by repeated, exaggerated worry about routine life events. Signs of the latter include trembling, fatigue, and muscle tension.

Although financial problems can be hugely stressful, there are many ways to deal with them, according to Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, a not-for-profit, community-based registered charity that’s governed by a volunteer board of directors.

The organization has a lot of useful advice on its Web site, including the direction to see your doctor if you’re feeling sick or not sleeping because of your worries. If you’re grinding your teeth at night, you might need to see your dentist.

“If your financial distress is compounded by abusive or self-destructive behavior-either in yourself or in loved ones-get help,” CCCSC stresses, noting that employee-assistance programs, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse can help.

Plus, be thankful for what you do have.

“When you’re in financial difficulty, you may feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders,” CCCSC explains. “But for most people, even when things aren’t going well, there is still a lot they can be thankful for.…Take the time each day to write down three or four things you are thankful for, and really take a few moments to reflect on what you have written.”

Ironically, amidst the economic calamity, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has announced the establishment of a charitable organization called Mental Health Partnerships of Canada. Supported by the Canadian Psychiatric Research Foundation, it aims to raise the profile of mental illnesses. It also hopes to raise money for research.

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