How Unemployment And Depression Fit Together

Nice article about the “chicken-and-egg” relationship of mental health and employment.



How Unemployment And Depression Fit Together.

How Unemployment And Depression Fit Together

I’ve written before about my friend Sharon and her job search travails. For two years, despite days when she felt so discouraged she was ready to give up, she kept on networking and finally landed a position that paid well and offered new challenges. But only a year into the job, the organization got hit with a funding cut and she found herself out of work again. She valiantly mounted a new job search but after slogging to interviews, writing countless peppy cover letters and opening herself up to jobs outside her field, she was still unemployed after a year. She finally succumbed to depression and went on medication that is screwing with her digestive tract. But at least she isn’t crying every day.

Her experience is all too common, according to new research by Gallup. “The longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being,” says the study. “About one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression — almost double the rate among those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less.”

Gallup ran the telephone surveys in 2013 with 356,599 Americans including 18,322 unemployed adults. Among those with full-time jobs, 5.6% said they were depressed or were being treated for depression. Among the unemployed, more than twice that number, 12.4%, said they were depressed. When Gallup polled those who had been unemployed for more than 52 weeks, the share of depressed people jumped to 19%.

One chicken-and-egg question that Gallup doesn’t answer: Does unemployment cause depression or does depression cause people to fail to find jobs? If my friend Sharon is any hint, I’d say the former, though to be sure, there are depressed people who consciously or unconsciously undermine their job prospects.

The long-term unemployed, unfortunately, have good reason to be depressed. They suffer plenty of discrimination in the job market. A 2012 study by economist Rand Ghayad found that employers preferred candidates with no relevant experience, but who had been out of work for less than six months, to those with experience who had been job hunting for longer than that.

People lose faith the longer they are out of a job. Gallup asked unemployed respondents about whether they would find a job within the next four weeks. The longer they were out of work, the less optimistic they were. Seven in ten people thought they would find a job within a month if they had only been out of work for five weeks or less. Fewer than three in ten thought they’d find a job in four weeks if they’d been out of work for a year or more. Unfortunately, they are probably right. Says Gallup, “This marked drop in optimism may affect job seekers’ motivation, increasing the risk that they will drop out of the labor force altogether.”

Gallup also asked respondents whether they had smiled or laughed the previous day. Among everyone surveyed, 82.5% said they smiled or laughed “a lot” the previous day. Among those unemployed for six months or less, 81.1% said they smiled or laughed the day before. But among the long-term unemployed, that number dropped to 70.7%.

Unemployment and depression can result in a vicious cycle of isolation. Three years ago the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University published a study of the long-term unemployed showing that half of respondents felt shame and embarrassment that prompted them to isolate themselves from friends and family. “Among the long-term unemployed, 31% reported spending two hours or less with family or friends the previous day,” says the study, “versus 21.5% among short-term unemployed adults.”

Gallup also points to the fact that many people who are out of work for a long time and finally land jobs then become unemployed again within a year. In total, according to previous Gallup research, people who have been diagnosed with depression miss 68 million more days of work per year than those who aren’t depressed, costing employers some $23 billion.