A study from the Medical Research Council suggests the global financial downturn has adversely impacted public health, with fear of unemployment leading to a decline in men’s mental wellbeing.
Researchers in Glasgow said the onset of the economic downturn could be considered a “threat to public health”.
The authors, who wanted to examine whether the recession had an impact on levels of anxiety and depression, analysed data concerning 107,000 people taken from the annual health survey for England for adults aged 25 to 64, between 1991 and 2010.
Their findings, published in the online journal BMJ Open, show that rates of poor mental health were highest between 1991 and 1993, when the UK was in recession, after which they fell steadily until 2004.
The rates then started to gradually rise until 2008, at which point they rose sharply.
In 2008, when the downturn began, the prevalence of people suffering from anxiety and depression was 13.7 per cent, but the figure rose to 16.4 per cent in 2009 and fell to 15.5 per cent in 2010.
These recent analyses confirm that the threat of unemployment is in itself harmful. Prof Justine Schneider
Men appeared to be worst affected. The rate of poor mental health in men rose from 11.3 per cent in 2008 to 16.6 per cent in 2009. In women, the rate only increased by 0.2 per cent, to 16.2 per cent.
The authors concluded: “The finding that mental health across the general population has deteriorated following the recession’s onset, and (that) this association does not appear to be limited to those out of employment nor those whose household income has declined, has important implications.
“Previous research has highlighted the importance of job insecurity, rather than solely employment status, as potentially resulting in adverse effects on mental health.
“One potential explanation for our results would be that job insecurity during the current recession is responsible for the deterioration in mental health, with men’s psychological health remaining more affected by economic fluctuations despite greater female labour market participation.”
Justine Schneider, professor of mental health and social care at the University of Nottingham, said: “It’s long been recognised that the impact on mental health of job insecurity is worse than that of joblessness, these recent analyses confirm that the threat of unemployment is in itself harmful.
“When people lose their jobs they react in different ways; some people thrive and this offsets the average impact. Young people however are particularly badly affected by unemployment, which seems to reduce their self-esteem and increase the risk of depression.”
Dr Amy Chandler, research fellow at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This new analysis provides further support to theories that suggest that men – more than women – might be affected negatively by unstable job markets and rising prices.
“An interesting addition to current knowledge is the authors’ finding that this decline in mental health was also apparent among men who were employed, whereas previously much has been made of the association between unemployment and poor mental health among men.
“This suggests that there should be acknowledgement that recession can impact negatively upon men in general, whether in employment or not.”