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Mental Health/Economic Health

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A close friend of Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg -- let's call her Jane -- recently fell into a depression after losing her job as an academic researcher at a major university. Jane, also going through a painful divorce, couldn't afford even the bargain-basement rates her psychotherapist was charging, and her treatment was terminated. Without therapy, Jane's depression deepened, making it all the more difficult for her to find another job.

While politicians argue about bank regulation and health care reform, tens of millions of Americans like Jane who've lost jobs, homes and assets are suffering severe anxiety, depression or other debilitating symptoms brought on or exacerbated by financial distress.

Unless properly treated, these conditions -- and the accompanying loss of productivity -- may become chronic. A recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that even after a person finds employment, the effects of a vicious cycle of depression, loss of personal control, decreased emotional functioning and poorer physical health can last for years.

We must lobby government to do more, but in the meantime community groups, foundations and non-profits -- themselves struggling to raise enough funds to stay afloat -- need to find ways to go the extra mile.

To that end, and inspired by Jane's heartbreaking circumstances, Dr. Kromberg has taken on the directorship of the just-launched Economic Crisis Program (ECP), under the auspices of Wright Institute Los Angeles (WILA) -- a non-profit psychoanalytic institute which provides struggling Angelenos with low-cost, long-term psychotherapy. (Disclosure: I'm WILA's board chair.) Funded by a grant from the Robert Ellis Simon Foundation, the ECP features a 15-week program delivered by skilled, compassionate mental health professionals offering a range of options, including individual psychotherapy, group therapy and educational workshops.

Fees are determined by participants' ability to pay, according to WILA founder and executive director Allen Yasser, who tapped Dr. Kromberg for the position.

"The individual and group therapy sessions will help participants cope with day-to-day difficulties, connect and receive support from others in similar circumstances, and better manage anxiety and depression," Dr. Kromberg says. "The workshops will teach methods of improving mental and physical health, taking active and measurable steps toward regaining financial control, and accessing available community resources."

The vast majority of the newly unemployed and the uninsured can't afford the treatment they need. And for many who have jobs and insurance (even the gold-plated plans rarely cover more than few therapy sessions) the faltering economy can also cause severe symptoms and make help less affordable.

Mental health services at all levels of government are being decimated, but the ECP and similar efforts are especially crucial in California, where the latest statistics are beyond grim: unemployment exceeds 12 percent and there are now 92,000-plus homes in foreclosure, the most in the nation. The bone-cutting reductions in California's budget go hand in hand with skyrocketing demand directly linked to these unprecedented job losses and foreclosures.
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Even those who've kept their financial heads above water may need psychotherapy to deal with the economic anxiety that pervades all corners of American society. A recent AP-Yahoo News poll found that one-third of those surveyed are concerned about losing their jobs, half worry they'll fall behind on mortgage and credit card payments, and seven in 10 are anxious that their stocks and retirement investments are losing value. An American Psychological Association poll backed up those findings, concluding that 80 percent of those surveyed report economic-related stress, up from 66 percent in April 2008.

Mental health and financial health are, as lawyers like to put it, inextricably intertwined. Now's the time to get more active. Get involved in grass roots efforts to pressure government to restore essential services; contribute to and participate in community and non-profit groups, or start new ones; and push in every way possible for universal health care which includes reimbursement for long-term psychotherapy.

If you want to know more about WILA or ECP -- or are aware of other opportunities for low-cost psychotherapy for those most in need -- please comment here, call ECP at 310.277.2609 or visit www.wila.org.