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Worried Sick About The Oil Spill, the Economy, and Unemployment? Could Therapy Offer Hope?

Karol Ward, L.C.S.W.

Some people appear to be experiencing what can only be described as an epidemic of hopelessness in the past several months. On an anecdotal level, only, this general hopelessness seems to be manifesting in some individuals as increased anxiety and to a certain extent, depression.

Rather than sharing just our own views on what appears to be a growing phenomenon Therapy Soup is speaking about the situation with Karol Ward, L.C.S.W., author of the new book, Worried Sick: Break Free From Chronic Worry to Achieve Mental & Physical Health (Berkley, 2010).

Welcome to Therapy Soup, Karol. Have you experienced any changes in the number of people contacting you regarding depression or anxiety?

Yes, I have definitely experienced an increase in the number of people contacting me for therapy.  In general, I would say there was a 30 percent increase.

This started around the time the worsening economy began to have a real impact in people’s lives.  I practice in New York City and I think there were many people who were caught off guard when they were laid off by their companies.

I also had an increase in my couples therapy work as the impact of the economy started to affect how couples were relating to each other.  The roles in their relationship that had been so firmly in place were now shaken up.  The couples had to adjust to new ways of coexisting together.  Sometimes one half of the couple was depressed over a job loss while the other had to find an inner strength to keep the finances going.

Have you had any patients who have openly disclosed that they believe their depression or anxiety to be at least partially related to or compounded by world events? What world events?

Yes, there has been a correlation between, “situational anxiety and depression” from outside events. This type of mood disorder is prompted by external events that then affect the mood and perception of the patients I am working with.

Initially it was the economy, with those patients who have also struggled with money issues being triggered even more so.   Then there were people who had been let go and found that they were struggling to look for and find work.

There was also another group who felt anxiety because they had kept their jobs and felt upset that their colleagues had lost their positions.  This particular group had an underlying anxiety because “they could be next.”  They often feel powerless and pressured to work harder because times are tough.  Sometimes that is the message in the work place and sometimes it is an internal self-created pressure.

That is an excellent point—but having an employer who is compassionate and supportive can be a big help in helping people cope with this anxiety. Also, having an employer who openly discusses the situation with employees also helps them feel less powerless. But, I am sorry to say, I have heard instances of employers taking full advantage of the situation and actually using it to “control” their employees by creating an atmosphere of fear.

There are, of course, other issues that seem to be affecting people’s anxiety levels and one that I hear about frequently is the tragic oil spill and the fact that it appears to still be gushing with no end in sight. Have any of your patients spoken of the oil spill and how it has affected them personally?

There is now upset occurring with some patients now about the current oil spill and interestingly it is more about the animals being affected.  The patients I see relate to the vulnerability of the birds, mammals and fish that they perceive are innocent victims.  Feelings of depression have come up around this particular issue.  These patients connect this back to their own issues around be powerless or victimized.  No one has expressed a direct connection with the oil spill such as living in that particular area but feel a general hopeless about the state of the environment.

I think what’s uncomfortable for lots of us is that there doesn’t seem to be a future point where we can look forward and say: Okay, by such and such a date, this will all be cleaned up. Also, though the oil spill is devastating and it is important for people to be aware and share the tragedies that other Americans are going through, the constant media images and stories might not be healthy focus for some people.

Thanks, Karol. We’ll continue next time with a discussion on how you believe therapy can help, as well as learn some more about your book!

About Karol Ward

Karol Ward, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist, nationally recognized speaker and the author of Worried Sick (Berkley, 2010) and Find Your Inner Voice (Career Press, 2009).  Karol combines her training as a psychotherapist with her passion for communication and has appeared as a psychological media expert on CNN, NBC, ABC, and in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Experience Life, Black Enterprise, Readers Digest , Idea Fitness Journal and The New York Daily News.  She has also been featured on,, and the as well as numerous radio shows.  The core of her work is the importance of the body-mind connection.

Worried Sick About The Oil Spill, the Economy, and Unemployment? Could Therapy Offer Hope?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Worried Sick About The Oil Spill, the Economy, and Unemployment? Could Therapy Offer Hope?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jun 2010
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