Published July 21, 2011
This Administration's policies are making some of my patients sicker.
Social and economic policies have psychological consequences. This is very apparent in the case of the federal government extending unemployment benefits up to 99 weeks.
In my practice alone, several individuals have found it much harder to overcome symptoms of major depression and anxiety because they can't rationalize giving up their unemployment checks and taking jobs that would pay them less (sometimes far less) than what they were used to earning.
And that reticence to work on their parts--which is a direct result of available unemployment benefits--keeps them from having a regular schedule, from interacting with fellow employees, and from feeling as though they have begun the climb back to self-sufficiency.
I have often said that it would take an emotional giant to stay at home for many months--when one is used to working--and not succumb to emotional difficulties. People need to be productive.
They need to have responsibilities and routines. And they need one another's energy. We take the greetings and humor and intensity and physical presence of others for granted, but the momentum of human interaction actually carries lots of people forward who would otherwise stall, energy-wise and mood-wise. There is magic in the way we are connected, one to another.
Make no mistake: I understand that folks need a safety net when the bottom falls out of the economy. But that safety net can become a web that captures them and won't let them get on with their lives. It can become a web that saps their self-esteem and encourages them to believe they are not strong and are not able to begin anew.
Too many people are lost in this web of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, and I am not certain that it is not part and parcel of the Administration's intent. Encouraging people to stay home and not work (like allowing adults to remain on their parents' health insurance for protracted periods) ultimately promotes dependency on the state. And dependency on the state seems to be part of the emotional/psychological/sociological DNA of this Administration.
Is it better psychologically for someone who once earned $100,000 to collect unemployment for 99 weeks because he or she can't find another job with a six-figure salary? Or is it better for that person to take a job for $30,000, or earn that as a freelancer, always striving to recapture a higher income? The answer is that the lower paying job is the real safety net, in terms of mood and self-esteem.
Encouraging people to remain on unemployment for 99 weeks can literally disable them psychologically for a lifetime. Two years of inactivity can be so debilitating as to render men and women psychologically crippled, and in need of extraordinary interventions to rekindle mood, confidence and motivation.
Barack Obama's policies might well resonate in families for generations, because depriving people of autonomy can affect not only them, but their children, and their children's children.