The biggest and most obvious source of stress right now is our long-running financial downturn.  Heavy hits from unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and vise-tight budgets are wearing deeply and destructively on people.  But another significant source of stress has been appearing lately.  I read about it in the newspapers; I see it in my practice.  There are a lot more serious health problems going on now than I’ve seen in years.

Chronic health issues – high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, heart problems, insomnia, migraines – all seem to be on the rise.  Rates of suicide – tragic, heart-breaking suicides – as well as suicide attempts are up.  Destructive behaviors, including addiction and extreme risk-taking activities, are more prevalent.  Nagging infections, viruses, inflammation, and joint pain keep appearing and seem more stubborn and resistant to treatment.

I have two patients in my practice who came to me recently for help with chronic, debilitating physical pain.  Both experience excruciating symptoms for which the traditional medical community has found no direct cause or explanation.  Both even checked in to Stanford’s highly-regarded medical center and were sent home with an identical set of messages.  The spoken message was, “There’s not much we can do for you”.  The unspoken message was, “We’re not sure you’re really in pain”.  Believe me, their suffering is real.

Could there be a connection between our “health stress” and “wealth stress”?  Last week I mentioned a recent article from the New York Times, “Foreclosures Are Killing Us”, which identified our foreclosure epidemic as “a bona fide health crisis”.  The authors of the article, Professors Craig Pollack and Julia Lynch, along with a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research which they quoted, all found a strong correlation between a community’s rise in health problems and its rise in foreclosure rates.  Losing a job, a business, a home, can bring people down hard.  Events like those are usually traumatic.  And I’ve learned from over forty years in my line of work that trauma, even purely emotional trauma, can cause physical damage and disease.

What can be done?  There are a lot of ways to approach the problem.  I’m going to continue to provide the best treatment I know for physical and emotional pain and trauma, the modality I created and call RMFR.  Pollack and Lynch also propose something I’ve actually been thinking about offering soon.  “Health care should be part of a comprehensive approach to foreclosure prevention,” the professors recommend.  “For example, mental health caseworkers should be embedded in mortgage counseling agencies.”

I’d like to make this extremely timely suggestion a reality by beginning to offer a new combination of personal and financial therapy.  In collaboration with a top-notch financial advisor, I’d like to integrate aspects of smart money management and financial survival skills into my established resiliency training and relationship counseling.  I’d include practical advice for self-care, stressing the importance of maintaining good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being in order to be able to confront the challenges of these difficult times.  I know the value of all these qualities and skills from personal experience.  Like almost everyone I know, our hard times have affected me, too.

I think the Professors Craig Pollack and Julia Lynch – and I – are onto something very important.  I intend to begin offering some real help, for our very real health and wealth problems, very soon.