February 19, 2009 / 8:47 PM / 10 years ago

Stressed Americans need mental soothing: expert

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The U.S. government should roll out a team of mental health professionals to soothe Americans anguished over the economic losses and encourage them to spend and invest, a New York psychiatrist says.

Dr. Richard Friedman of the Cornell Weill Medical Center in New York said he is treating 25 percent more people because of the recession, with patients suffering from insomnia due to anxiety and some even being diagnosed with clinical depression.

“It creates a culture of anxiety and fears. So you are not talking about a handful of people, you are talking about a situation in which the environment is fearful,” Friedman told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s contagious. Even people whose jobs are secure feel frightened that they, too, could lose their jobs.”

The U.S. economy, in recession since December 2007, is buckling under a heavy burden of rising unemployment.

Data released on Thursday showed jobless numbers rose to a record high in early February of 4.99 million, a rate of 3.7 percent. Washington has put forward an array of measures, including a $787 billion stimulus package, to revive the bleeding economy.

Friedman said people’s anxieties need to be addressed immediately and on a national scale. His answer: Replace assurances and explanations from economists and politicians with advice from mental health professionals.

Fear of the economic climate should be confronted in the same way as an irrational fear, he said.

“Say you are afraid of the dark, you walk in a dark room and turn on the lights and see that there is nothing terrible there,” he said.

“You’re afraid of heights, you climb higher and higher, you get exposed and you see nothing awful is going to happen to you. You’re afraid the market is going to collapse, you go out and you spend money.”

Editing by Maggie Fox, Leslie Gevirtz

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