The following was published recently in the Eugene Register Guard.
The severe economic downturn that Oregon is experiencing will affect the psychological wellbeing of many Oregon families. These effects are just as real as the job loss and foreclosures that will result from the downturn. Their impact will be detrimental both to the economically distressed families and to their communities.
Job loss and economic difficulties have well established effects on marital relations and parenting. Oregonians who lose a job will naturally worry and feel sad and anxious. Indeed, these losses change brain chemistry and the immune system for the worse. Many may feel shame and a sense of loss of status. Husbands and wives will become more irritable and conflict will rise. For many families, the result will be divorce, which will further worsen families’ economic wellbeing and their children’s wellbeing. Children of divorce have more conduct problems, psychological difficulties, and academic failure. Many continue to have problems as adults.
Even if parents remain together, economic hardship will affect the quality of their parenting. Many parents will spend less time with their children, get into more conflict, and do a poorer job of monitoring and guiding them. As a result, more Oregon children will commit crimes and get into problems with substance abuse.
Thus, there are strong practical reasons to be sure that Oregon and the nation provide as much economic support to families as possible. Unemployment benefits have already been extended. Help in preventing foreclosures will also be important. Many Oregonians have never collected their stimulus checks from last summers’ fiscal stimulus. Governments should take steps to find these people and get them the money. Similarly, governments should be more vigorous in making sure that families take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Charitable giving also becomes more important, but unfortunately contributions to local United Ways are down.
But there are also things that Oregonians can do that don’t cost money. And, although intangible, the benefits of these things are just as real as the impact of economic hardship on families’ wellbeing. Thanks to decades of research, we now know that social support can prevent many of the most difficult consequences of economic hardship.
You can provide social support simply by listening and showing that you care—even if you can’t help economically. People who have supportive friends and family members are more resilient in the face of all kinds of difficulties, including economic hardship. They are less prone to depression and have less marital conflict. People with supportive friends and neighbors do more to find another job and are more likely to find a job. There is even evidence that support from others makes people less susceptible to colds!
As individuals and as a community Oregonians can communicate their support, concern, and caring to those who are having a hard time. You can give money and food to help others and you can let your friends and neighbors know that you are doing it so that we strengthen the social bonds among us and motivate others to get involved.
But even if you cannot afford to give material goods, you can let those who are having a hard time know that you want them to get through this difficult time. You may also be able to help them connect with others who can help them find jobs, material assistance, and social support. For children, you can write them notes of praise about their positive actions. This will reduce the effects of stress and trauma. And you can make special effort to include such children in your family outings.
In reading these suggestions, you may notice a feeling of resistance. It is a natural human tendency to avoid people who are having troubles. Certainly, you won’t want to intrude. But most people will benefit from being encouraged to talk about their difficulties to a sympathetic listener. You don’t have to be able to solve their problems. In fact most people find that unasked-for advice unhelpful. Just letting them know that you hear them and you care will make a difference.
Our state and local leaders can play an important role in encouraging every Oregonian to look for ways to help their friends and family; to reach out to others and to make their caring about every Oregonian’s wellbeing visible to everyone around them.
This is a difficult time for Oregon and the nation. But it is also an opportunity. By looking for ways to help others through this time, we can strengthen the bonds among us, reduce the pain of those who are hardest hit, and prevent much anxiety, depression, marital conflict, delinquency, and even sickness. In doing so, we could emerge as a state more firmly committed to everyone’s wellbeing and better able to make this value a reality.
Tags: Nurturing Environments