Tag Archives: Depression

Are We There Yet?

Is this it? The end? Of the bad times? Of the recession and all it’s many manifestations? Or did the recession end quite some time ago? Or are we simply poised, ever so fragile, between more severe peaks – make that troughs – to come?


I don’t know about you, but I’m confused. And also just a bit (well, maybe more than a bit) irritated. If economic indicators and official numbers are so good, if consumer spending is increasing and unemployment is slowing (and those are good things, right?), why do I see such widespread economic worry, depression about the depression, and a sense that each new “surprise” on the financial front is not really a surprise at all? Why do I know so many families struggling with how much they can afford? With how to plan for the future while living in the present responsibly? With how to teach their kids to be prudent without worrying them?

Why am I so bothered by the exhortations to both spend in order to save the economy and save in order to be responsible citizens? Is Greece ok now, or just ok for now? How much was indeed known by whom – and when – on Wall Street? Business as usual or something sinister and illegal? Something barely legal that shouldn’t have been? And what’s the difference between shorting as a responsible way to hedge bets and make profits – the all-American way – and just plain old bad greed?

What’s the difference between a good story and the real story? I’d sure like to think I’m getting closer to, rather than farther from, the answers…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


And Why is Feeling Bad Good?

“Would have been nice to have had a few depressives underwriting financial derivatives and real estate over the past few years.”

Posted by DR, February 26, 2010, in response to Jonah Lehrer’s The Frontal Cortex blog-take on his article in today’s New York Times. The Upside of Depression.

Depression. It’s a good thing. Or it can be. Helps focus the mind. A clarifying force that pushes aside extraneous things – like eating or sleeping or sex – so you can settle in, wrap your head around, chew on the really big questions.

The ones that seem unanswerable. The ones we’d rather avoid. The ones we’d benefit from addressing. The ones we’d better start answering…

Now that would be a really good application of Behavioral Economics…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Graduating into the Recession

He thought he’d pick up an internship at the last minute. 3.7 gpa, great school, lots of offers last summer. This summer: nothing. Nothing. Found a job at a downtown day camp on Craigslist.

She took the offer because the money they were paying would help her tolerate the work and the hours she so disliked. Then they cut the interns pay in half without telling them. What were they going to do, leave?

She moved to the city, took a room in a group house in Queens even though it was geographically undesirable, and spent more on food (she had to eat out – no kitchen) than she’d been spending on monthly rent. But she couldn’t complain: she had a paid internship, while most of her friends weren’t so lucky.

Summer’s over. Back to school. High school, college, graduate school, even. And the anxiety level’s rising as kids look to their future and don’t see how they’re going to find work, let alone work in their field of interest. And these are the optimistic even idealistic years. Time to find some solutions here, before disillusionment sets in and with it indifference and depression. The kids’, that is…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part I: The Research

glasshalfemptyTough times, right? It’s easy to feel pessimistic. Well, read on. More evidence that an optimistic outlook correlates with better health, both physical and psychological.* After this week’s post on depression, that’s a pretty positive thing!

Results of a longitudinal study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, provide yet more support for the value of learned optimism. Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 569 individuals from age 7 to their mid-30s to see if certain personality traits influenced health later in life. Their findings: Children who were able to react less negatively to situations at age 7 – who viewed the world through the lens of optimism rather than pessimism – reported better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

According to Dr. Kubzansky, “Certain characteristics already evident early in life are likely to spark positive or negative emotions, and also influence biological and behavioral responses to stress. Some traits may contribute to developing healthier behaviors and better social relationships, and ultimately more resilience in mid-life.”

Trained observers rated the 7 year olds’ behaviors, which were then assigned to three personality attributes, one of which was distress-proneness (the tendency to react negatively to situations). To determine adult health, participants rated their health and reported whether they had any of the following illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis or hepatitis.

For all the participants, having a more positive outlook (along with the ability to pay focused attention) in youth affected health the most. These effects were greater for women, suggesting that women may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology, perhaps predisposing them more to certain health risks, such as heart disease. No differences in effects were found across race or ethnicity, childhood health or socicoeconomic status.

“Behavior and emotions generally linked to certain temperaments play a crucial role in long-term health,” Says Dr. Kubzansky. “Fortunately, early childhood characteristics can be shaped and guided by social, family and peer interactions. Interventions can focus on altering certain ways of responding and behaviors that frequently accompany particular traits to prevent certain diseases.”

Next up: Part II: How to change that half-empty glass into a half-full one. A slightly tougher task, so give me a few days, please?

*With special thanks to the American Psychological Association Public Affairs Office and DS who inspired this series.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Because It’s Terrific, About Depression, and You Should Read It if You are Depressed or Have a Depressed Friend or Loved One

Couldn’t say it any better than this. This, from my friend Robert Stein’s Connecting.the.Dots blog today (see Blog Roll):

Being Depressed

The cover of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine in jangled hand-printing reads “I have sat in shrinks’ offices going on four decades now and talked about my wish to die the way other people might talk about their wish to find a lover.” These words surround a small dark snapshot of a woman’s face looking at the camera in utter despair.

I know that face, just as I know something about the feeling those words describe. A quarter of a century ago, the writer, Daphne Merkin, fresh out of college, worked for me at McCalls, a gifted young woman, more serious than most but glowing with ambition for the literary career that stretched ahead of her.

Now, in painful detail, she tells of a life since then in a black cloud of chronic depression punctuated by constant psychiatry and mounds of medication, ending in a hospital stay anguishing over whether or not to submit to ECT, electro-shock therapy.

Her thousands of words evoke the extreme of a condition I have lived with since childhood, suffered with in loved ones and anguished over with friends and colleagues. Her account will resonate with the afflicted and baffle those lucky enough to find it exotic, perhaps even self-indulgent.

Yet it is at the heart of modern life, as painful, debilitating and destructive as cancer. Psychiatry and pharmacology almost randomly seem to help some victims but fail those who are most directly connected to life and most vulnerable, as I once wrote about Marilyn Monroe and my best friend, the photographer Ed Feingersh, both of whom died in their thirties, unable to keep living with it.

Like them, Daphne Merkin seems to have suffered from that gift and used it to connect with other human beings as a writer, perhaps never more so than in this account of her struggles.

Even those who can’t understand what she is going through may find something of themselves in her and wish her well for the future.

The Psychology of the Markets?

question_mark_3d President Obama’s speech (oops, Press Conference).  Geithner on the bank rescue package .  Senate passes the economic stimulus bill.  House-Senate conference planned to resolve differences between  two versions.  President hoping to sign the final bill into law before Presidents’ Day Monday.

But the markets don’t seem to be liking the news…

Perhaps Fed Chairman Bernanke, testiftying on Capitol Hill at 1, will say something of note here?

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved

The Depression of the Depression? Seems We’re on Our Way…

In  May, 2008, The New York Times ran an article by Sarah Kershaw on the psychic pain of the Wall Street layoff http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/25/business/25pain.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink.   When I talked then about the increased stress and strain my Wall Street patients were experiencing, I dubbed it “the depression of the depression.”  It was a kind of snappy figure of speech:  I’m no economist, and the U.S. economy at that point wasn’t even officially considered to be in a recession.  But I was detecting a level of fear, a kind of psychic stretch-to-the-breaking point so different from anything I’d seen before that I had to call it.  We laughed, and I prayed.

But I was seeing something in my practice even back then that I hadn’t seen before in over 30 years of treating financial services professionals.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  It cut across orientation, strategy, sector, philosophy.  Hedge fund or private equity guys, day traders, analysts, private bankers, real estate folks and more were so stressed I needed another word for it.  Whatever aspects of the financial markets, business, money and information they were dealing with, well, these folks who thrive on challenge and competition, who love analyzing and processing information, who crave the feel of adrenaline coursing through their veins, were riding an emotional roller coaster that just kept going and going.  For some, it also kept giving and giving.  (Until it abruptly didn’t).  For others, it just didn’t feel like anything they’d seen before and they couldn’t wrap their heads around it.  And for some, they were having a tough time sticking with strategy.

But something was going on and it was affecting my patients and clients more and more than they were affecting it.

So here we are, months later.  Paul Sullivan writes about the  mind-set shift, anxiety triggered by the “wholesale collapse of three things in which Americans invest tremendous pride and self-esteem: homes, jobs and investments” : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/your-money/07wealth.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink   

All manner of experts have opined, continue to.  Bernie’s come and not soon enough gone, and more Bernie wanna be’s emerge daily.  The times they are a changin’ and smarter minds than mine are, I do so hope, working on it.  For the rest of us, the ground’s still moving and we haven’t settled into the next version of normal. 

But I’m sensing a growing desire to slow things down, to disconnect from the race and reconnect to ourselves and one another.   To expand our definitions of success and happiness and what matters.  To breathe together…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.