Economy's Stuck, but Business Is Booming at Therapists' Offices

The struggling economy is hurting many Americans' mental health: Anxiety, depression, sleep problems and money-rooted marital conflicts are growing, experts around the USA say.

Requests for therapists increased 15 to 20 percent in the past three months, "primarily driven by concerns about the financial situation," says Richard Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych in Chicago, the nation's largest employee-assistance mental health program. The program has more than 24 million members.

The number of people online who talk about economic problems triggering stress has surged, says John Grohol, a psychologist and publisher of "It's rare to see one topic so infiltrating the concerns of people who otherwise seem to have nothing in common," he says.

Joy Browne, a psychologist in New York whose WOR radio network talk show airs on 200 stations, says that for about a year she has been hearing from working-class listeners who have been beset by layoffs and hair-trigger tempers at home. But now even upper-middle-class people are taking a hit to their emotional well-being.

"They expected to retire, and now they can't," Browne says. "They're being asked to take care of their grandchildren's education. They have homes they can't sell, and they can't travel."

In Plantation, Fla., Priscilla Marotta says: "People are more agitated, anxious and angry. ... You wouldn't believe how much the economy is talked about in therapy these days. It's the first time I've seen it in 20 years of practice, and I'm hearing the same thing from colleagues across the country."

More than half the clients in her middle-class practice talk about economic fears, and one-quarter to one-third say financial stress was the main reason they sought therapy. Both were rare occurrences until the past six months, Marotta says.

In other cities:

Barrington, R.I. Layoffs, job insecurity and college expenses are stressing out even fairly well-off patients, psychiatrist Scott Haltzman says.

Los Angeles. In an area where 50-mile work commutes are common, gas prices are hammering people, psychiatrist Judith Orloff says. "I've had patients who were laid off and others worried about whether they can afford to get kids to faraway schools they need for special education." Sleep problems are soaring, she says. "They lie awake at night and worry."

New York. Male managers who never had trouble switching jobs before now see their options closed, and they feel their masculinity eroding, says Alon Gratch, a psychologist. "The job situation creates crises at home. People are less tolerant of one another, and there's more conflict."