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The Longer Americans Are Unemployed, The More They Struggle With Their Mental Health

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"The Longer Americans Are Unemployed, The More They Struggle With Their Mental Health"

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Portland residents wait in line for a job fair on September 15, 2011. Several thousands attended the one day event.

Portland residents wait in line for a job fair on September 15, 2011. Several thousands attended the one day event.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The long-term unemployed are more likely to report suffering from poor psychological well-being, according to a new survey from Gallup. Among the Americans who have been out of work for a year or more, about one in five say they’re currently struggling with depression. That’s almost double the rate of depression among the Americans who have been unemployed for five weeks or less:

unemployment depression

“Record-high rates of long-term unemployment remain one of the most devastating effects of the Great Recession in the U.S. The economic cost is huge — but just as tragic are signs of poor mental health among unemployed Americans,” the researchers conclude.

It’s not clear that unemployment directly causes higher rates of depression, since it’s possible that the Americans who are already struggling with their mental health tend to have trouble finding a job. But the Gallup researchers point out that tracking the health effects of joblessness could help policymakers figure out how to mitigate this relationship. For instance, connecting unemployed individuals with programs to help them maintain their emotional well-being could improve their chances of being able to land and keep a new job.

This isn’t the first study to find a link between job status and mental health. A large body of research confirms that economic distress is tied to psychological stressors, like anxiety. The long-term employed are more likely to struggle with hopelessness and less likely to maintain a strong network of social support from their families and friends.

The strain on unemployed Americans’ mental health can have devastating consequences. One recent analysis found that the U.S. suicide rate increased four times faster between 2008 and 2010 — right after the housing bubble burst — than it did in the eight years leading up to the Great Recession. According to a worldwide review of suicide data, the recent economic downturn led to a sharp spike in suicide rates around the globe, and there were bigger increases in suicides in the countries where people were accustomed to financial success before the recession hit.

There’s evidence that long-term unemployment has a negative impact on people’s physical health, too. It’s been associated with decreased life expectancy rates, largely because it puts people at risk of losing their health insurance at the same time as they take up unhealthy habits like smoking and gaining weight.

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