On Mental Illness: Dealing with the Recession

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday August 16, 2011 - 01:30:00 PM

Despite what people might think, persons with mental illness are often more sensitive than the average person, and are more affected by adverse circumstances. This does not mean that we lack bravery. It just means that if there is a “hump” to get over, the emotional stress of this can sometimes trigger acute symptoms of our illnesses. For example, a person with a mental illness may have an “episode” triggered by the death of a family member. A breakup of a relationship can also sometimes trigger an episode, if the person with mental illness was exceedingly attached. (This does not address the aspect of how healthy or how mutual the relationship was or wasn’t.)  

The above examples are mostly about loss. However, other examples of stressors include losing a job, a threatening situation with criminals or police, or various national disasters. Any situation which a person with mental illness perceives as either threatening or devastating can potentially make that person’s symptoms worsen temporarily. In my case, the earthquake that happened in 1989, while it didn’t cause me to have a full-blown psychotic episode, it destabilized me just enough that I quit a good full time job doing television repair (that to begin with I was barely hanging onto.) Transitioning from peace to war, which I saw happen about ten years ago, triggered numerous mentally ill persons to have major episodes of their symptoms.  

However, today I am talking about the economic trouble and its effect on persons with mental illness; since it seems to affect every human being on our planet Earth.  

Most persons with mental illness do not live extravagantly on their social security benefits. (For now, I am not referring to persons with mental illness who are steadily employed.) For us to face further cuts in our benefits could be a frightening prospect. The idea of a worldwide “calamity” taking place as a result of the economic difficulties now in progress, is yet another very frightening idea. Many persons with mental illness whose problem is that of delusions could be triggered into psychosis by something really happening that resembles the material of many people’s delusions. Some of us may panic and go out to seek a job even though we may be impaired by medication and may be unaccustomed to the difficulties of work.  

I interviewed a friend who suffers from clinical depression for this week’s column. He agreed with me that it is frightening to look at receiving even less money to live on from the government with the prospect that we will not have enough money to cover even the basics. He believes we are somewhat in a position of helplessness because we may be unable to simply obtain a job to make ends meet. He reminded me that we already experienced cuts in benefits in recent years, and this was painful. And how does our population compete with the influences on government officials of the mega corporations, the giant oil companies, and the super rich—is there no representation for us? That was a question my friend asked. My response was that seniors are a significant block of votes; yet we have little or no influence beyond that, upon the decisions made by government officials. National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is an organization of the parents of persons with mental illnesses, and this may be our best bet for having a lobby that influences the government.  

For some persons with schizophrenia, the frightening aspect of a worldwide economic problem, as well as the prospect of having cuts in benefits could be a trigger to have a repeat episode of severe psychosis. Persons with major mental illness often have effectively less protection in our minds against traumatic or difficult events. In the process of trying to cope, we may, against our own wishes, revert to the symptoms of the illness as a makeshift shield. In the process of this, we produce a relapse. 

It is important for all persons with mental illness to take care of ourselves in any way possible, and to take care of one another during the economic and social challenges that we face. This can mean something as simple as sitting down for a cup of instant coffee, or giving someone a kind remark.