Here Are The Most Depressed Cities in America as Recession Threatens Mental Health

As concerns about the nation's economic health continue to rise, it's essential not to overlook how a recession could impact the inner well-being of individuals across the country.

America's mental health crisis typically lurks in the shadows, neglected as the more sensational breaking crisis of the day soaks up the media limelight. Yet the numbers paint an alarming picture. The pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression rates worldwide, and the US has undoubtedly been a part of that.

In fact, according to the US Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, 39% of adult Americans reported symptoms of depression last year, while 1 in 5 had a mental illness. However, less than half of Americans with mental illnesses receive adequate treatment.

A recent report based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows which cities in America suffer the highest rates of depression. It's a geographically diverse set, reflecting the broad scope of the problem.

While various personal circumstances can cause anxiety, academic research underscores the clear link between financial insecurity stemming from economic recessions and a rise in mental health issues.

Despite this, experts say there are several steps people can take to shore up their fortitude and lower their exposure to the blues. We'll share Harvard Professor Arthur Brooks' advice on pulling through the tough times ahead.

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The Downest Towns

According to the study, Billings in southern Montana is the most depressed community in the country – 31% of residents have been diagnosed with a form of depression.

Billings is followed closely by Kingsport and Bristol, an urban area that straddles the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Among the 305,000 people who reside there, 30.6% have depression.

Knoxville, Tennessee, is third on the list, where 30.2% of the population suffers from depression.

Charleston, West Virginia, is fourth, with a depression rate of 29%. Fifth is the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area, which sits on the Ohio River at the juncture of Kentucky and West Virginia, with 27.3% of residents having depression.

Economic or Mental Depression

With inflation proving stubborn, hopes of a quick economic reset are fading as the Federal Reserve signals that more “forceful” monetary tightening is needed to bring appreciating prices under control. Fed watchers have warned all year that the risk rate hikes will soon trigger a recession.

June survey showed that around 70% of 49 macroeconomists anticipate a recession sometime next year. A recession could take a severe toll on the country's mental health.

Research shows that the personal financial setbacks brought about by a recession (like job loss, insolvency, etc.) can both aggravate existing anxieties as well as trigger new issues; experts told ABC News.

Job loss is particularly brutal since individuals not only lose their livelihood but are also often left without access to healthcare provided by their employers. Experts fear this puts professional mental health care out of reach when it is needed most.

Worse, mental negativity can feed back into the economy itself and exacerbate the downturn. Deepening despair among the populace leads to gloomy consumer sentiment, decreasing demand and constraining the economy further. Similarly, bearishness grips investors, who become more risk-averse and withdraw more capital from the markets.

This vicious cycle saps the widespread optimism needed to lead the economy out of the doldrums. It could make for a glacially slow recovery or, worse still, permanent stagflation.

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Wellness Hacks

Harvard professor Arthur Brooks recommends following these three steps to stop a spiraling economy from dragging down one's mood.

First, people should stop checking their finances constantly. Although it can be tempting to do during times of volatility, Brooks advises against it.

“Make a prudent set of basic rules about your spending, savings, and investments… Then don't monitor your finances daily or even weekly. Make a rule to look once a month (or once a quarter) at most,” he said.

Brooks also recommends reducing news consumption to 45 minutes or less per day. This ensures the doom and gloom the mainstream media peddles about the economy doesn't go to your head. Note that negative news content is especially insidious when consumed first thing in the morning, per joint research by Harvard and Huffington Post.

“Consuming news and commentary about the economy can become compulsive, and it won't help. I can assure you that the experts don't know what is going to happen either,” Brooks added.

Finally, Brooks encourages people to remember we are not alone in our financial struggles. Many blame themselves when their investments or savings dive, but they shouldn't. In all likelihood, their financial losses didn't come about through any fault of their own but due to macroeconomic conditions that are out of their control. Brooks says that at times like these, it's important to keep perspective.

Brooks reminds us there is consolation in what he calls “collective pain” and that thinking of the plight of others can also induce empathy and have us stop catastrophizing over our private problems.

“Remember all the people losing money like you, but who are in tougher circumstances—maybe they are a few months away from retiring, or counting on their nest egg to buy a house this fall. Feel some sympathy (for them),” Brooks adds.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Liam Gibson is a journalist based in Taiwan who regularly publishes in Al Jazeera, Nikkei Asia Review, Straits Times, and other international outlets. He also runs Policy People, a podcast and online content platform for think tank experts.