Saturday, July 16, 2011 | 2 a.m.
If you ask local therapists to identify the emotional afflictions that come with living in Las Vegas as opposed to, say, living in Omaha, Neb., the answers come quickly. Of course, Las Vegans are as susceptible to the same emotional baggage that’s found anywhere else. But some issues just seem more prevalent here, and chances are good that most of us can relate to one or more of them. Aside from addictions to gambling, alcohol and drugs, here are other issues that specialists deal with daily.
No family support
In tough times, many depressed or distressed people turn to family — mom or dad or a close brother or sister — for support. But many of us left family and friends behind in other cities when we picked up and moved here during the boom years for jobs in construction, gaming or hospitality.
What’s the advice?
“We try to get them involved in activities outside the house, rather than just staying inside, and to think about what is going right with their lives, rather than what is going wrong,” says Colleen Peterson, director of the Center for Individual, Couples and Family Counseling at UNLV.
“We try to get them to see the positive in their lives, sometimes even keeping a gratitude journal. Every day they have to write down something they are grateful for.”
The other option: Leave Las Vegas and return to your family. People are choosing that option more than ever, Peterson says.
Lack of close friends
So you don’t have family near by, but you’ve at least made friends, right?
That’s a challenge in Las Vegas, for various reasons. Among them: This is a 24-hour town with overlapping work shifts, and the transient among us don’t figure on staying long because they came for work and may leave just as quickly.
“It’s normal to sleep during the day in Vegas, and it’s hard to connect closely to people who might be moving away soon, because of the crisis,” said Janet Jarchow, who in her own effort to make connections in Las Vegas reached out to the UMC Family Resource Center when her children were infants.
And if you’re tired of your neighbors dismissing you with the mechanical Vegas wave, there are opportunities to meet like-minded people online, through places of worship and by exploring leisure and singles groups. Linda Blaney started “Having Fun in Vegas” three years ago. It is affiliated with the nationwide online singles organization Meetup and claims almost 2,000 members hoping to make friends while participating in activities across the valley, from scavenger hunts to happy-hour gatherings.
Her members, she said, “want to go out and meet people, do something with others who are in the same boat. They can just go out and have fun without paying much money and without the pressure of being on a one-on-one date.”
The biggest problem Las Vegans face is unemployment, most recently measured at 12.4 percent but realistically much higher because of the people who have given up searching for work. As obvious as the problem is, many jobless may not realize that the root of their emotional issues are based on not working.
“Patients come into our teaching clinic and talk about everything they are experiencing: marriage problems, family issues, self-esteem, sense of self-worth” says Gerald Weeks, chairman of the marriage and family therapy department at UNLV. “They hardly ever show up and say, ‘I am unemployed and depressed about it.’”
He instructs future therapists to work with their clients in exploring options and brainstorming for realistic solutions — as well as to offer coping techniques such as focusing on the positive.
Sense of loss
Another emotional frailty afflicting Las Vegans: experiencing a sense of loss or needing a way to put closure on issues in one’s life. Loss from friends moving away, loss of a house, a job, a city, and more important, a loss of a sense of stability in their lives are issues that marriage and family therapist Sharon Harris of the Kayenta Therapy Center says she deals with frequently. She suggests rituals such as sticking a note or a letter to that someone or something that is gone to a helium balloon and letting it go up in the sky.
“You try to teach them to look ahead, for new ways to achieve their dreams and to begin again. It’s hard to make the best of a bad situation, but it’s possible, and it’s important that people move on,” she said. “I explain that negative energy creates more negative energy, but it’s the same for positive energy.”
When all these emotional challenges are considered in the whole, we come to maybe the most oppressive feeling of all — the sense of being in crisis and overwhelmed. It’s the sort of blackness that sends us to crisis hotlines.
“Talking about your problems can be helpful,” says Debbie Gant-Reed, a coordinator for the Crisis Call Center. “We’re someone to talk to, and we listen. We can help them try to normalize the situation and see they are not the only ones who are experiencing unemployment or whatever the problem is.”
In fact, taking this nation’s crisis personally and feeling a sense of failure for having lost a job, even when it has nothing to do with the client, is something many pointed out. People are blaming themselves, and not circumstances beyond their control, for losing their jobs and houses, and for a life that is not working out.
Providing not just a shoulder to cry on, but also a sense of perspective is often what volunteers do, she said. “From talking, the client can clarify the problem and feel less overwhelmed by it all.”
Kim Palchikoff is a freelance writer. She may be reached at [email protected]