Troubled times. Troubled minds.

If you visit Calcutta in good or bad times you will be confronted by beggars squatting in the gutter asking for money. You’ll notice their bright eyes and toothy smiles; they almost look happy. You know it’s partly to seduce or please you, but only partly. The truth is that living in the gutter means that they’ve no further to fall. The only way from there is up.

In the Great Depression of the thirties, wealthy bankers and traders had a long way to fall, and some threw themselves from their office towers. On the 25th of September last year Kirk Stephenson, operating officer of Olivant hedge fund threw himself in front of a rush-hour train; one of a number of people in the financial sector who have recently chosen suicide rather than the disgrace of bankruptcy. In America even some of the mega-rich are getting together in support groups to share their anxiety and no doubt their guilt. Hard times throw up strange ironies. When the economy plunges, those in the big cities are likely to suffer first.

Then And Now
What about all those people in the middle who are neither mega-rich nor Calcutta poor; those with jobs in the City, a hefty mortgage and kids at school? They’ve managed in boom times to make ends meet, and with two incomes even afford a holiday abroad once a year. Now it’s not just the holiday that’s under threat. If only one partner loses income, it could spell privation or even disaster. Singles are no different. The bottom line for everyone is the possibility of losing one’s home, whether it be a semi-detached in a leafy suburb, or a one-bedroom pad in an inner-city area. For thousands in the banking world it’s also the knowledge that they will never again find another job in that field, even when the economy picks up.

Not Just The Men
Paradoxically, the anxiety of not knowing whether you will have a job is almost worse than being out of work. When the worst has happened you can at least start to plan. The recession may have been caused by men in suits playing fast and loose with our money, but Professor Marilyn Davidson of Manchester Business School observes: “This impact on women is a very new phenomenon that we haven’t faced in this country before. We have far more women in work, far more one-parent families and far more female breadwinners. There certainly is a risk that the progress women have made could be thrown into reverse.” The government funded Employment and Skills Commission on job prospects through to 2017 foresees that “the majority of the additional jobs (created) are expected to be taken by males”, and men “are also expected to take a greater share of the jobs in many parts of the economy dominated previously by females”. For any post-feminist young women, or university graduates, that’s a profoundly depressing prospect, never mind for those women already in work.

The Threat To Relationships

Partners on modest incomes living together and sharing expenses are no less threatened by the economic shrinkage than the so-called ‘ chequebook marriages’, where only the spending power of two high incomes held an unhappy couple together. If only one of those partners is fired or made redundant and their lifestyle threatened, the sham of the relationship is rudely exposed. If they’re married the legal expense of divorce may be so crippling that they cannot afford to separate. Family solicitors say they have received a dramatic rise in instructions from high-earning partners. Of course the credit crunch does give them some leverage in down-grading the settlement. Even so the fall-out can be traumatic. Pauline Fowler, a divorce lawyer at Hughes, Fowler Caruthers, is reported as saying that she watches the markets daily to calculate what her clients are worth.

A Safe Place To Talk
In a crisis like this everyone feels desperately alone. Even those in a relationship. Other people have their own problems, how can we possibly burden them with ours? Yet the need to talk, not just to off-load, but to share and compare, feels inwardly urgent. Human Resources managers report a big rise in the number of staff asking for help or advice – often in tears. H.R. are also responsible for the unhappy job delivering the bad news. Fortunately there is now a venue where you can meet with others in the same boat. WPF, one of the biggest and most reputable counselling and psychotherapy training centres in the U.K., has just moved its London headquarters to London Bridge in the heart of the financial centre. They are offering to run a support group, with a maximum of 12 members. It will be run on support rather than therapy lines, but members will be able to talk freely. It will be conducted by an experienced group analyst. Contact: www.wpf.org.uk .

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