The Impact of the Economy on Mental Health

May 13, 2009

Nurses' blogs suggest that people are not coping well.

These days, it's impossible to escape the news about our nation's economy. For the most part, the news is not good and has many people worried about the future. On the Medscape blog "In Our Own Words: Medscape Nurses," nurses recently reported their observations of patients affected by the down-turn in the economy. One nurse wrote that she has seen an increase in non-accidental traumas among pediatric patients, another wrote of a suicide attempt by a recently unemployed business owner, and one wrote that she is now seeing female patients who have attempted hanging themselves. She added that this is something new for her geographic area and wrote that it is a "sign of hopelessness." A few nurses added that intentional drug overdoses appear to be on the rise, even in rural areas.

Some writers and editors say they have avoided coverage of suicide because it is not known yet if the economy and unemployment have in fact caused or contributed to suicide attempts. Some fear what is called "suicide contagion," which occurs when suicides increase in response to media coverage on suicide.

Franklin Cook, Suicide Prevention News and Comments Editor, posted "The Last Word on the Financial Crisis and Suicide Prevention." This post includes links to several reputable resources, such as organizations that have published statements about suicide and the economy.

The take-home message for nurses and other healthcare providers is this: we need to be vigilant in assessing the mental health of our patients. As stated on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) website, emotional crises usually precede suicide. If they are recognized, they are treatable. Also, the ASP notes that while most of the people who are depressed are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. We need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression, which include low mood, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. We also need to assess for anger, risk tasking, and increased alcohol or other drug use. Lastly, we need to actively listen to our patients (and perhaps our relatives, neighbors, co-workers, etc) to determine whether they are optimistic or concerned about the future and the economy, and take action if there is any question about their mental health.