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Great Recession Linked to Lasting Mental Health Issues

New research finds that people who suffered a financial, housing-related, or job-related hardship as a result of the last major recession (from December 2007 to June 2009) were more likely to show increases in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use.

The findings appear in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Investigators discovered declines in mental health that were still evident several years after the official end of the “Great Recession.”

Until the new study, the effects of the recession were concealed when examining trends in population-level data (e.g., the number of people overall with each mental health outcome).

“Our study provides a new perspective on the impact of The Great Recession, showing that population-level analyses likely miss important patterns in the data,” said lead researcher Dr. Miriam K. Forbes, who began the research as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota.

“By looking at individuals’ mental health and experiences of the recession, we could see a different picture.”

“Individuals who experienced even a single recession impact still had higher odds of nearly all of the adverse mental health outcomes we examined — including clinically significant symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, and problems with drug use — three years after the recession,” Forbes said.

“And these odds were higher still in specific sociodemographic groups who suffered marked losses during the recession or without a strong safety net.”

Forbes and University of Minnesota colleague Dr. Robert F. Krueger examined data collected as part of the longitudinal Midlife in the United States study of adults aged 25 to 75. To investigate the impacts of the Great Recession, the researchers focused on data collected in the 2003-2004 wave, three years before the recession began, and the 2012-2013 wave, three years after the recession ended.

The researchers examined participants’ symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder and their symptoms of problematic alcohol and drug use.

In the 2012-2013 wave, participants also reported whether they had experienced a variety of recession-related impacts, including financial impacts (e.g., missed mortgage or credit card payments, declared bankruptcy), job-related impacts (e.g, took on an additional job, lost a job), and housing impacts (e.g., moved in with family/friends, threatened with foreclosure).

As observed in previous studies, the prevalence of each mental-health outcome in the full sample remained stable or decreased slightly from 2003-2004 to 2012-2013. But when the researchers looked at mental-health outcomes in relation to the hardships individuals experienced as a result of the Great Recession, the analyses told a different story.

Specifically, each hardship experienced was associated with an increased likelihood of having symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, or problems with drug use. This pattern held even when Forbes and Krueger accounted for participants’ previous symptoms and their sociodemographic characteristics.

The researchers also found that individuals who did not have a college education were more likely to show increased anxiety in relation to job-related hardships.

And, people not living with a spouse or partner were more likely to have problems with drug use associated with housing-related hardships. These associations may reflect the relative lack of safety net available to people in the job market who have fewer qualifications, or who rely on a single income.

The analyses also showed that people with greater financial advantage were particularly affected by some hardships.

Compared with their less-advantaged peers, participants who were well-off were more likely to have anxiety symptoms associated with housing-related hardships and were also more likely to have drug use problems associated with financial hardships.

These associations may reflect that fact that experiences such as “moving in with friends or family to save money” or “selling possessions to make ends meet” likely signal a substantial loss of assets and a considerable level of hardship for people who were previously living comfortably.

The researchers note that the observational nature of the MIDUS data does not allow them to conclude that recession hardships caused an increase in participants’ symptoms. However, the findings do reveal the limited perspective afforded by aggregate-level analyses; understanding people’s actual lived experiences requires analyses that examine individual-level outcomes and changes over time.

The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 resulted in huge losses to employment, earnings, assets, and income in the United States. This research shows that those losses were associated with lasting negative mental health outcomes for many individuals.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Great Recession Linked to Lasting Mental Health Issues

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Great Recession Linked to Lasting Mental Health Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/09/05/great-recession-linked-to-lasting-mental-health-issues/150005.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Sep 2019
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