Pa. psychiatrist sees link between economy, health of white working class

     Job seekers are silhouetted while waiting in line to attend a career fair put on by National CareerFairs in San Jose, Calif in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,file)

    Job seekers are silhouetted while waiting in line to attend a career fair put on by National CareerFairs in San Jose, Calif in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,file)

    A Pennsylvania psychiatrist and his colleagues are noticing some troubling mental health trends related to joblessness among their white, working-class patients. And those trends seem inextricably tied with the current political climate.

    Dr. Kenneth Thompson, president of the American Association for Social Psychiatry, said many of his patients fall into a very specific category — they’re white, male, high school-educated, former Democratic voters who supported Donald Trump for president.

    “I wish I could tell you that I didn’t have a large number of people who were family members, people who’ve died from ODs, who haven’t had significant amounts of stress because of unemployment,” said Thompson, who is based in Pittsburgh.

    Increasing numbers of those in that demographic are struggling with addiction or mental health issues that seem tied to the trouble they’re having in the current economy, he said.

    “The overall sense is there’s a population that is more highly stressed than it has been in the past,” he said.Thompson said he sees that stress manifesting itself in opioid or alcohol abuse, increased suicide rates, and a pervasive feeling that American politics need to be shaken up in some fundamental way.

    “The world is clearly changing, and the issue of the migrations and immigrations are clearly tapping into some people’s anxieties about where the future lies,” he said.

    Recent studies also bear out Thompson’s observations.

    As for solutions? Thompson said he and fellow psychiatrists aren’t there yet.

    He said politicians — and other leaders — should be asking themselves how to make sure all Americans can take part in the country’s changing economy.

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