Economic stress taking toll on mental health

By 
  • December 22, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO  - The country's economic woes are causing more Canadians to seek counselling in recent months, says the Canadian Mental Health Association .

Catholic Family Services of Toronto — one of several agencies across the country at the frontlines in helping people cope with individual or family breakdowns during the economic crisis — has seen the number of people seeking counselling increase, especially as people are faced with holiday and post-holiday stress.

"We know that the holidays, whether they are family oriented or whether they are a reminder of the lack of significant relationships in our lives, can heighten anxiety or cause strain,” Furgiuele, executive director of Catholic Family Services of Toronto , told The Catholic Register.

The organization served about 9,000 people in 2008, a 13-per-cent increase in the number of clients. The immediate weeks and months following Christmas usually lead to a spike in the number of clients, Furgiuele said.

Losing a job or being more reliant upon food banks can take a toll on family life, she said.

"People are losing jobs and may not be able to afford to pay for services.”

The latest job prospects appear grim. According to a new report by Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development, 517,000 jobs would be lost within five years if the Big Three automakers were to go out of business.

The spike in numbers of people seeking counselling isn't surprising, says Alexandra Keay, a project manager at the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“When there's financial stress in the family there can be marital discord and family dysfunction,” Keay said from Ottawa.

Keay said there can be a significant mental health fallout from the economic recession. Anxiety can result from worrying about job security or how to put food on the table.

And Keay said calls to the Canadian Mental Health Association's regional centres have increased this year from people who are worried about losing their disability pensions.

According to a 2008 Desjardins Financial Services survey, 43 per cent of Canadians surveyed had voted money problems as one the top three sources of stress. Keay said this number will most likely increase in the coming year.

Greg Campbell, chief executive officer of the Catholic Family Service of Calgary, said the economy has been a top concern for people seeking counselling services at his organization whose clients are mainly from lower income brackets. Many are worried about their finances and being able to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, in an effort to help individuals, couples and families cope in Canada's largest city, Catholic Family Services of Toronto has been offering counselling for abused women and a program for divorced and separating couples for several years. Its fees are offered on a sliding scale according to a client's income, but if clients can't afford the fees, they aren't turned away.

This, however, presents a strain on Catholic Family Services, which relies on nearly 50 per cent of its funding from donations, said Furgiuele. It receives funding from ShareLife, the charitable fund-raising arm of the archdiocese of Toronto, and Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services for its domestic violence program.

After the holidays, Furgiuele said there could be more people who are on the verge of separation or divorce seeking help.

In 2009, Furgiuele said the organization is hoping to expand its connection with Toronto parishes to help raise awareness about issues like violence against women and highlight the importance of community support for individuals and families. The program with the highest demand this year has been for abuse counselling. Hundreds of women usually participate in this program, she said.

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