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Divorce is Up, Personal Trainers Down

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Last week, in the wake of the near-implosion of mortgage insurer Fannie Mae, and with rumors swirling about the fate of Lehman Brothers, where the stock has plummeted 70 percent, I got an email from a friend. Instead of his usual pithy jokes -- he sent me his investment fund's second quarter report.

He wrote:

"Even as skeptics, we were amazed that the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low for so long, that Congress and the Administration spent money so flagrantly, that lenders reduced their credit standards to such lax levels, and that consumers continued spending as their economic prospects dimmed."

The world is now feeling the downside of such profligacy, and there is likely more bad news to come."

The pressing question, as I look around, is at what cost to us is this bad news - not just in economic terms?

Bruce Yaffe, MD, who has a practice at Lenox Hill hospital, notes that he is seeing a surge in stress-related illnesses - from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to acid reflux, to headaches, to musculoskeletal symptoms and sleep disturbance.

Dr. John Ryder, a New York stress management specialist says he is seeing more people resorting to pills and alcohol.

These findings do not surprise me.

Financiers tell me they spend their days looking at screens reflecting market movements, unable to work.

Worst affected are former middle-aged employees at Bear Stearns, which collapsed in March. They saw a lifetime's savings in stock wiped out and are forced to consider taking salaries they would have sneered at a year ago from the few banks now hiring - British brokers Collins Stewart - or Australia's Macquarie.

But people in every sector fear they could be laid off at any second.

Friends at Paramount suddenly got axed when Deutsche Bank pulled its film financing last week. Film-making is a risky business. Advertising revenues are down. "Flat is the new up" is the new joke in publishing. It's not really that funny.

College graduates are being told they no longer had the job they thought they had locked up for September.

One person took a job with drug-makers Pfizer only to be told he'd be laid off within a month.

Small wonder that walking down Madison Avenue is like being in a ghost town, and that sales assistants are prepared to make house calls with designer clothes marked down by 80 per cent.

Divorce rates are up; personal trainers are losing their clients. No one has the time or inclination to work out.

The toll of all this is unguessable. Physical breakdown occurs after two years of major stress, according to the sociologist Alvin Toffler.

Two years...by then George W. Bush - whose "flagrant spending" my friend wrote about - won't be in office to be held accountable.

This article was originally published, in slightly different form, by the London Evening Standard