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We can't fight what has happened, so we should use it.

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Maria-Christina Doulami

MEDICAL experts are expecting a rapid increase in cases of depression and anxiety disorders as the extent of the economic crisis begins to register and impact on peoples' lives.

The economic uncertainty, wage cuts and job losses of the last 18 months will now snowball as the effects of the tough conditions set by international lenders for a bailout are felt indiscriminately across society.

Psychologists all foresee an increase in depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse and psychosomatic disorders - insomnia, fatigue and gastrointestinal illnesses - and even attempted suicides.

Severe, clinical depression is a biological illness and needs to be treated professionally, but those who might be suffering from milder forms are urged not to view what has happened as a tragedy, but rather as an opportunity to reform.

"The constant bombarding of talks about this crisis makes us focus on all this negativity, rendering us more vulnerable to any kind of illness," said psychologist Dr Antonios Raftis. He likened the crisis and its burst of negativity with a river whose dividing channels have been blocked and the surge of the water downstream is such that it overflows and destroys its surroundings.

All psychologists agree that worrying constantly is unhelpful. "We cannot control life. What we can do is accept the facts and see how we can best deal with the situation," said Dr Achilleas Koukkides, likening the crisis to a parent (the government and politicians) who has now betrayed us.

"This spreads fear and instability," he said.

Cypriots are likely to feel particularly badly hit because social status has played such an important part in people's lives for so long. According to Dr Jacqueline Widmer Kalochoritis, this will be even more apparent for the younger generation who have grown up believing wealth and luxury is their birth right.

"The older generations are more prepared for this crisis," she said, "because they have experienced difficult situations in the past and know how to struggle. But the younger generation will potentially be the biggest victims of the crisis because they don't know what it is like to fight."

Men too will suffer, according to Widmer Kalochoritis, because in Western cultures men are still socialised to base their worth on their careers, income and wealth, and "losing that means losing their footing".

But psychologists are eager to urge people to view the crisis as an opening to new possibilities for redefining who you are, without letting society and cultural values tell you what car to drive, what job to do, what house to live in.

Recent research indicates that the difference in the level of happiness between people who have suffered traumatic experiences and people who have, for example, won the lottery is actually statistically zero.

Widmer Kalochorits explained that people nowadays focus such a large part of their lives on their careers that everything else gains less significance. "Once that is pulled away," she said, "as has happened with this crisis, people are forced to pay more attention to the other facets of their personality, of who they are."

In this, focusing on relationships, marriage, family and friends are essential to maintaining some semblance of a positive attitude.

"These are the people who will support, boost and soothe you and this is the time more than ever to tend to these relationships," said Widmer Kalochoritis. "Depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, may provoke a greater tendency for isolation, but we must realise that the biggest protective factor for all this is our social support."

Psychologists all recommend distractions - going for walks, picnics, social gatherings. But also exercise as this helps reduce stress hormones and increases feel-good levels, enabling you to feel more in control. The routine also gives a structure to your day.

Above all, it is about attitude. "We should see the glass as half-full and not half-empty," said Raftis, "because the former is easier to refill and hence recover from this crisis."

People suffering from depression need someone to validate their feelings of despair and fear, but simultaneously, they need someone to force them to change said Widmer Kalochoritis.

"Everybody has unexpected resources, that they have successfully used in past situations, and there is always something that can be done," she said. "What blocks us is the pervasive hopelessness brought about by depression. We need to change our attitude to force ourselves to pull through and sometimes an absence of choice can be helpful for promoting change."

The crisis has entered our lives as a shockwave, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has to bring with it the misery, the doom and gloom many expect. It can also be a chance for people to redefine, rediscover and reinvent themselves.

Government psychological support

THE HEALTH ministry announced on Thursday the launch of a round-the-clock psychological support hotline to help those dealing with anxiety and depression because of the financial crisis.

The ministry is doing away with waiting lists, and has said that people will be referred to a specialist immediately.

From tomorrow, a hotline will be available round-the-clock. Officials will provide immediate psychological support, try to contain stress and depression and refer callers to support centres.

For the hotline call 22-603263 if you are in Nicosia, Larnaca or Famagusta. For Paphos and Limassol call 25-801107/106.

Psychologists expect cases of depression and anxiety to rise rapidly

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Apr 7, 2013
Words:899
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