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Layoffs expand some occupations

Downturn-tied services grow in volume, variety

HACKENSACK, N.J. – A psychologist finds herself hunting down job resources for patients who are out of work. A law firm has hired staff to help with a rise in severance package negotiations. A psychologist has had to take courses on treating sleep disorders after patients began losing sleep over layoffs and job insecurity.

While the grim job picture has brought them more business, it also has challenged their skills.

“I’m finding myself overwhelmed with people who want to be seen because they’re anxious and depressed over the economy,” said Sheryl Thailer, a clinical psychologist in Ridgewood, N.J. “You have to be a jack-of-all-trades and provide all types of services.”

Unemployment and the fear of it continues to wreak havoc on the mental health of the nation, experts say, two years after the first effects of the recession.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington, D.C., released startling figures on the effects of the economic downturn in an October 2009 survey, calling the situation a “mental health crisis.”

The unemployed are four times as likely as those with jobs to report symptoms consistent with severe mental illness, the organization said. And those with jobs who have experienced changes such as pay cuts or reduced hours are twice as likely to have these symptoms.

Thirteen percent of those without jobs say they’ve thought of harming themselves, four times more than those employed. The unemployed are twice as likely as those with full-time jobs to report abusing alcohol or drugs within the six months prior to the survey.

Thailer said she has numerous patients reacting in negative ways to the added stress of losing their jobs or fearing they will lose them. In addition to her treatment, Thailer now also recommends job resource organizations, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency in Hackensack.

“These are things I was never trained for when I went to school,” Thailer said.

“I am not a job coach or a vocation counselor, yet I do have to come up with creative ideas.”

The employment law firm Deutsch Atkins PC in Hackensack is “extraordinarily busy” with both severance package negotiations and increased calls from people claiming they were targeted in a recent layoff because of their age, partner Bruce Atkins said.

To handle the overflow, the firm hired a full-time paralegal and made a part-time one into full-time, he said.

“Age discrimination is extra-prevalent in an economy like this,” Atkins said, and businesses sometimes hide it within large layoff actions.

“If they can get rid of a person making bigger bucks, the larger salaries save more dollars.”