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The Economy's Effect on the Mental Health of Families in Silicon Valley

Original post made by Adolescent Counseling Services on Oct 2, 2008

As the unemployment rate in Silicon Valley sits at a four-year high and consumer prices continue to soar, many parents are coping with the burden of providing for their families on a strained budget. A recent study by Working Partnerships USA on the current state of the economy in Silicon Valley echoes troubling national data, suggesting that despite positive predictions earlier this year, the nation's economic woes have and will continue to have an effect on Silicon Valley businesses. With stagnating wages, an increase in the proportion of low-paying jobs, rising debt, and foreclosure activity growing in Santa Clara County by 513 percent since 2006, many families in the greater Silicon Valley area are facing tough times and even tougher decisions about how they plan to weather this economic storm.
As the constant juggling of investments and financial portfolios takes center stage in the media and dominates dinner table conversations, the potential damage that these issues inflict on mental health is frequently overlooked while increased stress levels in parents are unintentionally transferred to their children and teenagers. Parents may exhibit signs of depression (sleeplessness, lack of appetite, feelings of hopelessness) and anxiety and stress (increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, bodily tension and increased conflict with family members). As a result, children are often impacted and act out their behavior at home or at school.
Margaret Murchan, Program Director of the On-Campus Counseling Program (OCCP) and coordinator of the new Adolescent Counseling Program (ACP) at Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS), is witnessing these issues on multiple levels. "We've received calls from parents who are interested in our counseling program," she explained, "who are dealing with increased family conflicts due to budget constraints."
Though the school year is just beginning, counselors who deliver free care through the OCCP at seven area schools expect to be dealing with similar situations on a regular basis. ACS counselors are trying to encourage parents to recognize the far-reaching effects on child education that can stem from periods of economic loss. "It can be difficult for parents, in pressing financial situations, to recognize changes in the behavior of their children, but it is crucial in terms of development to confront these issues as they arise," Murchan warned.
With the need for affordable mental health treatment options in high demand, the Adolescent Counseling Program (ACP), which recently opened its doors to families and teenagers in and around the greater Silicon Valley, has begun to see interest from individuals willing to travel for treatment. The ACP offers counseling services to teens and families on a sliding scale with no client being turned away due to an inability to pay- a huge plus for families experiencing difficult financial situations for the first time. "Privacy, along with affordability, is another big concern with the clients we serve," stated Dr. Philippe Rey, ACS Executive Director. Many people may hesitate to seek treatment because of worries that they may run into their counselor at the supermarket or a member of the community may see them entering the building. He continued, "Many people feel as though confidentiality is increased when seeking treatment outside their own city limits."
Another crucial area of mental health that can be significantly influenced by times of increased stress is substance abuse. Brenda Stern, Program Director for the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) Program at ACS, is extremely concerned with the potential consequences that the economy may have on children and teens in the area. Stress has not only been shown to prompt relapses in substance use, but it is also one of the leading factors that causes individuals to consider initiating use. These crisscrossing links between the economy and stress, depression, anxiety, and impulsive behavior are becoming increasingly apparent in all three of ACS's Programs, and the unlikelihood of a quick economic turnaround warrants greater attention to these issues by the media and the general public.
During these stressful times, the importance of having quality, affordable mental health care, especially for our youth, is more apparent than ever. With finances frequently being cited in studies as the number one leading cause of stress, it is essential that individuals and families in Silicon Valley allocate as much time and energy to their mental health as they are to their bank accounts.

For more information about the Adolescent Counseling Program or the On-Campus Counseling Program, please call (650) 424-0852, ext.102 or email Margaret@acs-teens.org. For more information about the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program, please call (650) 329-9410 or email Brenda@acs-teens.org.

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