woman in depression

Unemployment and mental health

Unemployment not only presents a serious financial issue but it can also cause mental problems. People without a job can feel redundant even in their families and useless not being able to provide for their family.


Unemployment (or joblessness), as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks. The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and it is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force.[1]

Mental health describes a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder.From the perspective of ‘positive psychology’ or ‘holism’, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life, and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. Mental health can also be defined as an expression of emotions, and as signifying a successful adaptation to a range of demands.[2]

Sixteen recent longitudinal studies are examined for evidence relevant to the claim that a change to one’s employment status affects one’s mental health. Although there were limitations to the set of studies examined, most of the studies supported this claimed relationship. Examination was then made of the size of this effect. In carrying out this examination, the set of study results were divided into two categories: (a) those addressing the question of the extent to which gaining employment impacts on mental well-being; (b) those addressing the question of the extent to which employment loss impacts on mental health. The meta-analyses indicated that there was a weighted effect size of .54 for the first question, and a smaller weighted effect size (.36) for the latter question.[3]

Within the context of the British labor market, 11 investigations into the mental health impact of unemployment are described. These reveal significant decrements for people of all ages as a result of moving into unemployment, and for middle-aged men additional effects of continuing joblessness. Research into factors mediating the harmful impact of unemployment has covered time since job loss, employment commitment, social relationships, gender, ethnic group membership, social class, local unemployment rate, and personal vulnerability. Findings with respect to each are summarized, and a model of influential environmental characteristics is introduced. Additional British investigations are cited throughout the paper. [4]

Poverty and unemployment (odds ratio 1.86, 95% confidence interval 1.18 to 2.94) were associated with the maintenance but not onset of episodes of common mental disorders. Associations between poverty and employment and maintenance of common mental disorders, however, were much smaller than those of cross sectional studies. Financial strain at baseline was independently associated with both onset (1.57, 1.19 to 2.07) and maintenance (1.86, 1.36 to 2.53) even after adjusting for objective indices of standard of living. Poverty and unemployment increased the duration of episodes of common mental disorders but not the likelihood of their onset. Financial strain was a better predictor of future psychiatric morbidity than either of these more objective risk factors though the nature of this risk factor and its relation with poverty and unemployment remain unclear. [5]

Existing theoretical explanations of the mental health consequences of unemployment are outlined, critically reviewed and an alternative theory proposed. Theories reviewed include the rehabilitation approach, the stages model, Jahoda’s functional model, Warr’s vitamin model and Fryer’s agency critique. A discussion of the effects of moderating variables—including the quality of work, work commitment and age—is used to assess the usefulness of these theoretical explanations. Most theories are found to deal inadequately with the temporal aspects of unemployment, the relationship between subjective experience and objective location and the complexity of the effects of moderating variables. In response to these inadequacies and in contrast to the predominant empiricist, psychological orientation, a middle range theory is proposed informed by a sociological perspective. The proposed theory conceptualises unemployment as a type of status passage and suggests an explanation of changes in mental health derived from identity theory. [6]

From a prospective study of the impact of stress on health in 300 men assessed every six months, men who became unemployed after entering the study were compared with an equal number, matched for age and race, who continued to work. Psychological and health data after unemployment were compared between the two groups by multivariate analysis of variance and covariance. After unemployment, symptoms of somatization, depression, and anxiety were significantly greater in the unemployed than employed. Large standard deviations on self-esteem scores in the unemployed group suggested that some men coped better than others with job-loss stress. Further analysis showed those with higher esteem had more support from family and friends than did those with low self-esteem. Furthermore, unemployed men made significantly more visits to their physicians, took more medications, and spent more days in bed sick than did employed individuals even though the number of diagnoses in the two groups were similar. [7]

Examined the kind of mental health problems experienced by the unemployed and their relationship to the length of unemployment, using data from 3 questionnaires administered to nearly 2,000 17–20 yr olds (51% male) in 1985, 1987, and 1989. The Central Bureau of Statistics in Norway was responsible for the collection of data. Results show that unemployment had a weak but significant impact on mental health problems. Active job seeking did not moderate mental health problems. Social support and contact with close friends had a moderating effect on nervous symptoms in women but not in men. Unemployed men who were involved in illegal activity showed increased nervous symptoms during unemployment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved).[8]

In this article we examine research on effects of unemployment on mental health in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. We describe studies that use cross-sectional, longitudinal and time-series data, and we discuss studies that investigated the duration-dependence issue in exit rates out of unemployment. Not surprisingly, cross-sectional studies reveal that unemployed persons have worse mental health than do others. Most longitudinal studies suggest that unemployment is associated with deteriorating mental health, even though it is somewhat unclear how long such an effect persists. Most duration-dependence studies were done using Swedish data. It turns out that unemployment benefits and labour-market policies affect the pattern of exit rates out of unemployment. [9]

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Changes in a person’s employment status can seriously affect their mental well-being especially if the change is leaving them with no job. Being without a job can leave a serious bad effects on somebody’s health.


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unemployment
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_health
[3] ”The effect of unemployment on mental health” by: Gregory C. Murphy, James A. Athanasou
[4] ”Unemployment and Mental Health: Some British Studies” by: Peter Warr, Paul Jackson, Michael Banks
[5] ”Poverty, unemployment, and common mental disorders: population based cohort study” by: Scott Weich, Glyn Lewis
[6] http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/027795369390316V?via=sd
[7] ”Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health.” by: M W Linn, R Sandifer, and S Stein
[8] ”Unemployment and mental health among young people: A longitudinal study.” by: Hammer, Torild
[9] ”Unemployment and mental health: evidence from research in the Nordic countries” by: A. Björklund, T. Eriksson

Special thanks goes to http://www.australia-mining.com for topic suggestion and their help with writing this article.



AUTHOR: Josip Ivanovic


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