Latest economic indicator -- the shrink

A therapist begins to jot down some notes with a pen while in session with a client.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: That durable goods figure we started with today is a pretty straightforward indicator. Stuff that's expensive and that's supposed to last more than three years. But sometimes you find better economic truths in more offbeat places.

Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson joins us now from Washington with the latest installment of our series on unusual indicators. Jeremy, what do you got?

JEREMY HOBSON: Well, of all the strange indicators we've talked about, Kai -- fast food sales going up, pets being returned to animal shelters -- this has by far the most components.

We're calling it the shrink indicator. And it's amazing what you can learn about the economy in a psychiatrist's office.

Now, I went to an anxiety clinic, called The Ross Center, here in Washington. And if we could bring up the sound from that visit . . . It's very relaxing in there as you can tell. And I spoke with Jerilyn Ross and Beth Salcedo.

HOBSON: Maybe I should put you on the couch. We'll reverse roles here. . . . Now, you're a psychiatrist . . .

BETH SALCEDO: Yeah.

HOBSON: And you're a psychologist?

JERILYN ROSS: A clinical social worker.

HOBSON: OK, so can you tell anything about what's going on in the economy by what people are asking for? What kind of business is coming in? That kind of thing.

ROSS: Well, first of all, people are talking about the economy. That's part of the therapy sessions. That's something that's affecting everybody. But also what I notice in terms of the practice is that we used to have patients mostly coming in for psychotherapy, to see psychologists and social workers. What I'm finding now is that more and more patients are coming in, wanting medication. And when I ask them why, one of their first things they say is "Because I can't afford the psychotherapy."

HOBSON: Dr. Salcedo, are you seeing the same thing?

SALCEDO: Well, you know, I think it is a lot cheaper to go the medication route. And if people don't have a real strong preference for medication versus psychotherapy, they often, in times like this, will choose to do medication. Because they see me once. They might see me again a few weeks later. And then maybe, once they're stable, every few months, versus seeing a therapist every week for, you know, 12 to 16 weeks on end.

HOBSON: Do you think that at a time when the economy turns down and people are stretched, that they're more in need of therapy or that this is something, this is the first thing that should go when times get tough like this?

SALCEDO: Usually, definitely more in need.

HOBSON: I imagine that you'll agree with that.

ROSS: Oh, absolutely. And one of the things that I find is that a lot of the things that most of us do to deal with our everyday stress -- you know, working out, eating properly, taking vacations -- things like that, that's often the first thing to go when the economy begins to sink.

HOBSON: Now, Kai, with regards to what the doctors were saying about more people wanting medication as opposed to therapy, the numbers do seem to bear that out.

Eli Lilly reported that second-quarter sales of its anti-depressant Cymbalta were up 26 percent. Wyeth's drug Effexor was up 5 percent. And Forest's anti-depressant Lexapro saw sales jump 6 percent. So maybe a whole new meaning for the term Great Depression.

RYSSDAL: Now, those are the number, though. But let me ask you the anecdotal question, Jeremy. You went out to the clinic to talk to these ladies, right?

HOBSON: That's right.

RYSSDAL: What was the waiting room like? Was it crowded or empty?

HOBSON: It was crowded, actually. Although, you know, a lot of those people coming in, according to these doctors, are not coming in to have a long therapy session. They're coming in to say, "Give me some Lexapro.

RYSSDAL: Jeremy Hobson in Washington for us. Thank you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Thanks, Kai.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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