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Have 'Dow Polar Disorder'?

October 30, 2008 By:
Ben G. Frank, JE Feature
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Illustration by Roy Miller

If you are affected by insomnia, anxiety, lack of appetite, panic attacks or nightmares, chances are you may be reacting to the economic chaos and stock-market plunge affecting Wall Street today.

Doctors say many of the stress problems we face are related to the market crash, housing slump, credit crunch, high unemployment and inflation. So much so that some psychiatrists, such as Dr. Maurice Preter, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, Columbia University, refers to some financial people, or those suffering huge money losses, as coming in with "annihilation anxiety."

"It's as though their existence was being destroyed, not just some of their assets."

Economic ailments have caused a "big jump in patient relapses into alcohol and drugs," says Dr. Richard Frances, professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University, an expert in alcohol and drug abuse.

"People in the financial world who led very privileged lives suddenly find they are without jobs, and that the stock they had in their company is going under," added this director of public and professional education at Silver Hill Hospital, New Canaan, Conn.

His term for what he sees is "Dow Polar Disorder."

But the symptoms do not only include increased visits to psychiatrists. Even dentists are getting their share of troubled individuals who are grinding their teeth. Dr. Michael Goldberg of Gallery 57 Dental, in New York City, has noticed a spike in patients with bruxism (grinding and clenching).

Sleep deprivation is another common ailment caused by today's economic dislocation. Dr. Charles L. Starke, internist, of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., said he is seeing more patients with anxiety problems. They tell Starke they can't sleep; one such patient related that when he was about to lose his house, he cashed in his stocks during one of the recent "wild, down-market weeks."

Preter, who is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and an expert in panic disorders, says that persons in financial enterprises are "freaking out," many suffering from panic attacks. Sometimes the related escalated blood pressure "can lead to heart attack and stroke," he notes. "People are not themselves right now."

Preter, who is also an adjunct associate professor of neurology, at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, treats many people involved in the financial sector; his advice to the public in general is to talk about the problem of financial loss and share it, rather than "drowning in panic."

"Everyone is worried," says Dr. Yehuda Nir, a New York City psychiatrist. He blames much of what he calls "a debacle" on the media. "We know too much," he says, citing another of his favorite culprits, the "media virus."

Professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical Center, New York City, and the author of the Holocaust memoir, The Lost Childhood, Nir asserts he is "not worried," adding, "Hitler didn't kill me; this economic fall won't, either. "

Another reaction comes from Dr. Henry Paul, a New York psychiatrist in private practice. He points out that "a stock market correction is the best antidote for the illusions [under which] we all live ... an acute withdrawal from the drug of greed."

Commenting on what many believe is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Dr. Paul Jay Fink, professor of psychiatry at Philadelphia's Temple University Medical School, cautions those who are upset.

It is "foolish to feel guilty" if you sold at the wrong time and lost money.

"What's done is done," he advises. Guilt "will only make your life worse. If you are depressed, seek help."

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