Economic woes take toll on workers' mental health

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One in five U.S. workers say the recession is causing them mental health problems, as they battle anxiety and fear over the potential loss of their jobs, new research shows.

A display of employment tips pamphlets waits for job seekers at a job fair sponsored by employment website as part of their "Keep America Working" tour at a hotel in New York's Times Square, March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Among 1,068 employed adults surveyed, 215 said the economic situation has had a negative impact on their mental health, while another 359 workers said their on-the-job stress level has increased. The survey was conducted online for employment agency Adecco USA from February 25-27.

“There’s certainly been a pretty severe increase in stress, and stress is a precursor to anxiety and panic,” said Dr. Elisha Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who specializes in stress issues.

Workers are distracted as well, worrying about keeping their jobs, when layoffs might come or the fate of colleagues who already lost their jobs, he said.

“Companies start to become less effective. It starts to become a downward spiral, where an economic recession starts to become more of an emotional and mental recession,” Goldstein said.

With job losses growing, company coffers shrinking and budgets tight, it’s no wonder workers’ mental health is taking a hit, public relations executive and lecturer Terrie Williams said.


“What’s really difficult and very isolating about this experience is that people are walking around with that stuff inside of them. It’s pretending that you’re fine when you’re really worried sick,” said Williams, who suffered from depression and wrote about it in her book “Black Pain.”

She suggested workers repeat the following mantra to themselves -- “Everybody else is losing their job, but I’m not that one. That’s for somebody else. I’m not going to be that one.”

Employees can handle workplace anxiety better if a company is frank about how it is faring and if managers are visible, said Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer at Adecco USA, which commissioned the mental health survey.

Canadian motivational speaker Mike Moore had some advice for employers: Be appreciative of employees.

“The thing I hear most is that nobody ever thanks us,” he said. “People will walk over miles of razor blades in bare feet for you if they know you appreciate them and tell them.”

Business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter cautioned that tempers can wear thin in a workplace filled with stressed-out, anxious employees.

“The important thing to remember when you are harassed or attacked by someone is not to react in a way you will regret later,” she said.

“Though it may feel good to say, ‘Well, what do you know, you idiot?’ it’s not going to build your credibility or accomplish anything,” she said.