Friday, February 13, 2009

The Buffalo News: Hard times are pushing many into mental illness

By Deidre Williams

It’s all weighing pretty heavily on Barbara Smith, a widowed grandmother who lives in the Black Rock section of Buffalo.

She fears layoffs are coming soon at her job a local nonprofit agency. That’s on top of the hours that were cut recently at her part-time job at a local florist.

And don’t forget the weather: the very cold, very snowy past weeks, followed by a couple of days of warming, then 60 -mph winds and wet snow that knocked out power to more than 50,000 homes and businesses.

“I guess the news is bad for everybody,” Smith said, “and it just seems to get worse.”

All this contributes to what experts call the new face of mental illness.

Doom and gloom seem to have dominated the news lately.

Consider the headlines:

• A global economic crisis.

• A recession here at home.

• The near-daily tally of job cuts at large companies worldwide.

• Record snow and frigid temperatures locally, then flooding and a wind storm.

• Gasoline prices creeping up again after receding from record highs.

“There’s a lot of bad news,” said Brian D. Barnas, a University at Buffalo student. “That’s the times we’re in right now. That’s what’s going on in the world.”

As a result, many Americans are facing fear, anxiety, uncertainty and stress.

The despair and desperation that come with such feelings is the “modern face of mental illness,” said Thomas P. McNulty, president and chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Erie County.

Many people have heard of schizophrenia, bipolarity, and eating and personality disorders, McNulty said.

“But today the modern face of mental illness includes mortgage crises, job loss, people stressed to the limit financially. It’s an entirely different emotional situation,” McNulty said. “The modern-day things we can face can turn into a severe emotional disturbance.”

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