Economic crisis and mental health — what to expect and how to prepare? (Part 2)

Do we have a syndrome of learned helplessness?

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Interviewer: Aco Momcilović, Psychologist, EMBA, Owner of FutureHR

Interview with: Tomislav Bunjevac, Psychologist, Institute for Organizational and Personal Development

Part 1 is available here:

Q6. Are there specialized institutions or departments that would address precisely the problems that create unemployment and lack of income? If not, why and what can be done?

As far as I know, there are no such specialized institutions. When it comes to the consequences of compromised mental health, most mental health professionals are in the health system (for the most part) and, one smaller part, in the social security system. There were some programs that the Croatian Employment Service conducted in collaboration with NGOs (for example, The Association of the Unemployed), which offered advice to the unemployed persons. The content was most often related to job search support. But those programs had ambiguous results.

Q7. Do we have any other countries’ best practices, how to deal with the psychological consequences that the crisis leaves on the labor force?

I do not know if there are any ‘mass’ and comprehensive ‘state’ programs for examples from other countries. Therefore, it is doubtful to talk about the ‘practices of other countries.’ Perhaps the most similar programs were partly implemented in some countries and related to the reintegration of war veterans into civilian life (USA, South Korea).

But perhaps we can talk about differences in common social values, upbringing, traditions, and climate in society. In this crisis, too, those differences are bound to show up. However, these are primarily phenomena that change very slowly and whose importance is underestimated in some countries/societies (for example, in Croatia). Thus, in different countries, people will dominate with psychological and psychosocial consequences, as defined by tradition, upbringing, and values. Suppose these values and traditions are dominated by ‘proactive’ ways to deal with stressful situations, positivity, optimism, social solidarity, and general social positive values. In that case, the effectiveness in dealing with the crisis will be higher, and there will be less damage.

It seems that the dominant phenomena in Croatian society, even before this crisis, is the one of ‘learned helplessness,’ which is the least sound basis for overcoming the consequences of any and, in particular, crises such as this one.

From the other side, it is known that many organizations (primarily from the so-called real sector) invest heavily in development and improvement programs for their crucial employees. Traditionally, these programs place great emphasis on contents that help to deal with organizational or work stress as effectively as possible. It is often about developing and improving resilience to various organizational changes, especially those related to organizational stress.

People who have completed such high-quality programs can certainly develop better mechanisms to overcome this current crisis.

Unfortunately, such programs were very rarely used by small and medium-sized business owners.

Q8. Some research shows that in crises, people are better at recognizing opportunities and becoming more innovative. Are there any positive results that be provoked by a crisis at some people?

Some twenty years ago, a general trend called ‘positive psychology’ was promoted. It also emerged as a reaction to the aforementioned century-old tradition and the dominance of the so-called ‘medical model’ in psychiatry and psychology, according to which these two disciplines mainly dealt with consequences defined as ‘damage’ (disorders and diseases).

Positive psychology focuses primarily on psychosocial health and emphasizes the importance of achieving quality of life. In this context, one of the most important starting points is defined as follows: any situation we find ourselves in can be described as an ‘opportunity’ or ‘challenge’ from which we can learn something and come out stronger, more positive, better, and more satisfied. Of course, that is not easy. In this case, commitment to such a goal, motivation, participation, endurance, perseverance, and belief that the goal can be achieved is expected.

Also, any significant change (such as this crisis) forces some people to look for different solutions that can be innovative. Daily experiences confirm that idea.

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Q9. A survey conducted by the Glas Poduzetnika Association on coping with stress and mental health gave interesting results. About 50% of entrepreneurs still manage stress well and effectively. More than 18% use conversations with family and friends to relieve stress, while 20% use, to a greater extent than before, alcohol or some psychoactive drugs or some pills. It is also interesting that a minimal number (less than 1%) said they use professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Do we have comparable data to compare entrepreneurs with the general population?

Concerning these results, it would be interesting to apply the same questionnaire to some other samples in the Republic of Croatia. That would allow us to compare the entrepreneurs’ results with the general population’s or employees in some public sector segments. Perhaps based on such results, a more constructive discussion of the various characteristics of the work in the so-called ‘real’ and ‘public’ sectors could be formulated. I believe that such results would show that this situation is ‘no easier’ for anyone than it is natural that people from different sectors face this crisis and its consequences in different ways.

A small percentage of the use of professional help from psychologists or psychiatrists (less than 1%) may be: a) due to our social values and social climate (low propensity to seek such help), b) the general phenomenon of seeking services from the health system, or c) the general avoidance of physical contact with professionals, as many people have not yet reoriented to ‘online’ counseling and treatments.

However, there is no doubt that the need for such types of help will grow, especially as the crisis stops (as it has always been throughout the history of crises).

Q10. Assuming that the condition worsens in the next period, what would you recommend? How does one take care of their mental health?

First, the most important thing is to maintain your business and minimize the damage as much as possible. At the same time, within the limits of what is possible, it is crucial to redefine your business’s goals and expectations. Also, if possible, focus on finding alternative and/or innovative ways to do business. While doing so, it is essential to focus on the potential positive aspects and, if possible, accept this crisis as a challenge or opportunity. That is an approach that will guide us in the direction of positivity. In this context, it may be useful to discuss issues with friends who are entrepreneurs and family members and ask for their opinion and support.

If our ways of dealing with it don’t help us, or we think we’re feeling bad, it might be helpful to search the Internet for useful information. Access to such content is effortless, and we should not underestimate the usefulness of such content. Even when we think that these tips are trivial, if we approach them with confidence, determination, and positivity, they can be useful for us.

If that does not help us, it would be a good idea to seek advice from consultants (the best would be psychologists) who already have experience working with people from the business, organization, and entrepreneurial field.

Only if all that does not help us we can ask for help from clinicians.

Here the best would be to see a psychologist/clinician first. If they can’t help us, the psychologist/clinician may eventually refer us to a psychiatrist. Then the psychiatrist can prescribe our therapy, and, if we are talking about more severe problems, he is the only one who can determine the pharmacotherapy (medication) for us.

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Human Resoucres, Psychology, Entrepreneurship, MBA…

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