Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC | Article

Coping with Financial Depression

The global financial crisis is having a very local affect - it is driving many hardworking individuals into a deep depression as they are forced to deal with the consequences of suddenly not having enough money to live. Many people who were previously successful and respected in their communities and families are now suffering from acute depression as they struggle to adjust to their new financial circumstances. This article is about financial depression and what we can do for ourselves and loved ones when it strikes.

What happens when someone who was once successful and respected is suddenly without the means to support his or her family? How does this person avoid reacting to the new situation in ways that will not bring about more harmful results?

What typically happens when a person suddenly loses his or her capacity to support his or her family is a period of withdrawal. The individual, knowing they cannot pay the bills, avoids them. The bills, often unopened, pile up in a corner or are hidden from sight and stored in a bag in the garage.

While the bills are not being paid, the administration of the family's finances also suffer a blow as the person stops entering details into the checkbook, never wanting to know exactly how much money remains in the account. Under this scenario, when the occasional bill does get paid it is never certain whether the check will bounce or be covered.

This avoidance of reality, driven by a need to adjust to a new and radical reality, is a form of depression. It is crucial to recognize this not only because it is the first step to recovery, but also because it influences the way family and friends interact with the afflicted.

According to the DSM-IV, the mental health clinician's guide to diagnosis, major depressive disorder (or depression) is present when a person experiences five or more of the following symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks. The prevailing symptoms include:

• Persistent Sadness
• Feelings of Emptiness
• Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities
• Irritability
• Hopelessness
• Trouble Sleeping
• Low Energy or Fatigue
• Feeling Worthless or Guilty
• Significant Weight Change
• Difficulty Concentrating


Let's face it. With the current economic crisis, so many of us just take a look at our bills and become sad and irritable. We begin to argue with our spouses and children over seemingly petty matters. We feel that our situation is hopeless and become apathetic. We develop low self-esteem and mourn the loss of all our previous accomplishments. We lose our will to succeed, in essence giving up, which in turn makes us feel even worse. Adding to the danger, studies have linked depression stemming from poor economic conditions to a number of diseases and an increased risk of suicide.

Furthermore, when we feel stress we tend to try to diminish our depression with alcohol, drugs, or reckless behavior. Our feelings of hopelessness lead to poor decisions and uncontrolled spending, since there is no money to pay for basic living expenses.

Perhaps the most disturbing result of financial depression is that we lose all that made us unique. As people watch the cumulative results of all their efforts go up in smoke and they are left without the financial stability or respect those efforts previously awarded them, they lose more than their homes and cars - they lose their self-respect. And with it goes all that made that person special as he or she coils up inside him or herself afraid to face what they perceive as awaiting shame.

Adding to the pressure, and thereby intensifying the depression, are the credit collection agencies. Their tactics only serve to compound the problem because they are unaware or unconcerned with the wellbeing of the person to whom they are speaking. They only want their money and they will use coercion, threats and harassment in order to get it.

Financial problems embarrass us, which only adds to our depression as we feel shame before our spouse, children and friends. Some people respond by panicking and others by trying to play it cool. But none of us really know what to do or how to reduce our intense feelings of sadness.

According to a leading South Florida psychologist, people suffering from financial depression can lessen their feelings of sadness by doing or not doing some seemingly simple tasks.


These activities are recommended for people seeking to reduce their anxiety about financial matters:

• Limit the amount of time you spend watching the news.

• Create coping strategies and plans of action so you do not feel so helpless.

• Take care of your health by eating well and exercising.

• Develop a financial plan and share it with your family.

• Think positively and do not "catastrophize" your financial situation.

• Do not allow anxiety to overwhelm you so that you feel helpless.

• Recognize that the recession will end and your situation will improve.

• Evaluate your job situation objectively to determine whether you may lose your job.

• If your job is vulnerable, consider training for a different job.

• Consider a second job if you do not have enough income.

• Cut down to your basic essentials and stretch out or eliminate unnecessary expenses.

• Start an emergency fund and save money while you can; hoard cash.

• Use a home equity line of credit for emergency funds.

• If your job is terminated, file for unemployment benefits as soon as possible.

• If you cannot pay your bills, speak to an accredited credit counseling agency.

• Practice deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and other stress reduction techniques.

• Don't spend, shop or engage in any other addictive behaviors to relieve anxiety.

• Find ways to improve your relationships with friends and family.

• Seek professional help to change attitudes and behaviors to recover from anxiety.

While many of these suggestions are useful, many may also seem impractical for someone already deep in depression. For example, the idea of creating a coping strategy sounds reasonable, but the emotional tools, as well as the financial confidence, to do so may be lacking. In essence the suggestion calls for the inflicted person to find a way to cope when in fact the problem afflicting them is that they are unable to cope. This seems like a circular solution and could in fact lead to higher levels of frustration.

Similarly, a suggestion to someone they get a second job when they lost their only job and in an environment where jobs are hard to come by may seem disingenuous. So too, the suggestion of a home equity line of credit when the banks are not giving loans eliminates any hope of bank assistance.

Nobody likes to hear impractical solutions for their most pressing problems. This said, while every solution listed above may not fit every person suffering from financial depression, certainly some of the solutions offer some degree of direction to everyone.

The most important thing is to continuously try to improve your situation. The danger with depression is that it can make us apathetic and our lack of action leads to a compounding of the crisis - which in turn worsens the depression. We must always be trying to improve our lot. In addition to the hints above, some additional steps you can take include:

Instead of looking for a job in your field, look at what jobs are available. Use the Internet and visit AOL, Yahoo, Craigslist, Monster, Careerbuilder and others. See what is out there. It may not be your dream job, but it could help get you through this difficult period.

Another option to consider is relocating. For instance, Florida, at this time is one of the worst places to get a job, so moving to a state that has more industry and a healthier economy, may present more opportunities. If your whole family can't move, maybe you should go alone and send the money back home. Sometimes we have to do many unthinkable things in order to financially survive, and at this juncture many people are just looking to survive.

Perhaps too you could consider a change in career. Many of us believe we are too old or too experienced in one field to consider moving to another. But if your profession is experiencing a drop in demand and you know of other skill sets that have more stable demand, learning a new skill may be a wise thing to consider. It is true that this may not alleviate your immediate pressure, but it will give you hope and lessen your depression as you see you are taking constructive steps to ensure your future.

Also important is not giving up the things that bring you joy. If you like movies or books, go to the library and borrow some. The library also has CD's if you like listening to music. If you enjoy television, watch the shows you like. Take walks in the park where you can think a bit and find some peace. Allow yourself to laugh and enjoy. Your situation may be difficult, but you're entitled to feel good.

One thing we often do when we are ashamed is withdraw from the people closest to us, including family and friends. Be certain to call friends and meet with them. There is no need to be alone, and their company can serve as support. Share with your friends what is troubling you and allow them to comfort and encourage you. Sometimes by talking about problems we get them out of our system a bit and feel a little better.
Additionally a review of your spending habits may be in order and you may find places you can cut your costs. For example, many of us are in the habit of eating many or most of our meals in restaurants. Some of us have premium cable channels. And sometimes we buy items that are not essential and that we can do without. By reviewing where your money is being spent and determining how you can spend less, you may be able to alleviate some of the ongoing pressure.

Our depression can be akin to a de-motivator. As sad as you feel, you need to try to get out and start networking. Start meeting people, because it is one of the best ways to find employment. Review your contact listings and see who may be seeking someone with your skills. Don't confine your search to your local area, but look nationally. Use whatever contacts and/or skills you have and don't be embarrassed, because you need to make a living.

All the words in the world can't make you feel better about your situation, only you can. The best advice that one can give is: never give up and be willing to give anything a try. It isn't easy, but do anything; at least it is a start and it will bring some much needed money into the house. Who knows where it will lead? Good luck to all of us!!!

The Family Law Cooperative is a group of caring professionals who offer a cooperative approach to divorce and other family disputes. We guide couples through the confusing and emotionally charged divorce process in an atmosphere of mutual respect and dignity. Our team includes Florida Supreme Court certified family mediators, mental health experts, children's therapists, parent coordinators, financial planners, and accountants to provide you with the support services you need to navigate the complex issues you may be facing including: parenting and timesharing plans, child support agreements; marital settlement agreements; marital asset valuations, divisions of assets and debt; spousal support, and post dissolution matters.