In May 2011 the unemployment rate in the United States had maintained a steady 9.1 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  As the economy struggled to recover, statistics showed the lack of jobs continued to be an issue for many people. Fast-forward to 2016 and the quoted unemployment rate by BLS is currently at about 5 percent.

Statistically speaking, job prospects look stronger, but many people still find themselves struggling to find work. Or, even if they do have a job, they find many employers have and/or are looking to cut back on salaries, vacation time, healthcare plans, retirement funding and other perks and benefits. Other organizations are downsizing, leaving employees worried about job security and what the future might hold in terms of employment longevity. 

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

When a job loss occurs, this generally brings worrisome financial repercussions. However, over time it can spill over into other areas of life as well. Did you know growing evidence suggests unemployment not only affects a person's financial health but could also impact his or her physical health too?

Analysis Brings to Light Negative Health Effects

In 2009 researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted an analysis which examined the effects of unemployment and health. In the study, the unemployment and health data from three surveys, conducted in 1999, 2001 and 2003 by the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics, was appraised. The analysis observed the data from over 8,100 people.

"In today's economy, job loss can happen to anybody," said Kate Strully, the researcher who did the analysis. "We need to be aware of the health consequences of losing our jobs and do what we can to alleviate the negative effects," Live Science had reported at that time. [2]

Strully's analysis concluded that losing a job can have negative effects on a person's health. According to the study, the adverse effects believed to be associated with unemployment included hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke or diabetes. Mental and emotional health also had been noted by researchers as other health factor risks. 

Credit: andreas160578 via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

While the potential negative effects were many, what was strikingly discouraging was that "those who lost their job - white or blue collar - through no fault of their own, the odds of reporting fair or poor health increased by 54 percent. Among respondents with no pre-existing health conditions, it increased the odds of a new health condition by 83 percent." (courtesy of New York Times) [3]

Other studies have supported this analysis of negative health effects and joblessness and, in some cases, suggest it can lead to a fatality. A New York Times article in 2010 told the story of men who suffered heart attacks after a job loss and also cited earlier studies done on the subject. [4]

The Stress Factor and Emotional Health

It likely goes without saying that unemployment increases stress levels, particularly if the inability to secure another job continues for the long-term. Many people who are out of work worry about how they are going to keep their homes and feed their families, but also wonder how long the period of unemployment will continue.

Feelings such as self-doubt, depression and fatigue often go with joblessness and this can heighten the stresses that go along with the daily pressures that exist due to the lack of a steady income.

Losing a job can take a serious toll on one's self-esteem and when the situation is ongoing this further can decrease feelings of self-worth. Additionally, people often relinquish their social lives in exchange for days filled with writing and uploading resumes, making phone calls, doing Internet research, checking the classifieds and perhaps even hitting the pavement. While all are necessary actions to secure a new job, it can also result in feelings of loneliness and alienation. Over time, this too can take a serious toll on a person's emotional health.

Job search
Credit: Trudi Nichols via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

According to Health Day, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a survey between 2006 - 2008 and found, of the 235,000 people surveyed, one of 10 were found to be depressed. Researchers also found one of the primary causes of depression was unemployment. [6]

A Gallop poll published in June 2014 found the longer a person experienced unemployment, the more likely he or she is to report "poor psychological well-being".  Long-term unemployment also is also a contributing factor. The poll found 1 in 5 Americans who were unemployed for a year or more either were currently or had been treated for depression, almost double the rate among those unemployed for five weeks or less. [9]

Positive Health Effects?

Being laid off or fired is a life-altering change, and while studies show negative health effects are likely directly correlated to unemployment, on the positive side, awareness and knowledge can help perhaps mitigate some of those health risk factors.

While stress, depression and physical adverse effects tend to increase during times of unemployment, there is potentially a glimmer of optimism that can help keep up good health. One thing many people who experience job loss often note is having too much time. Being unemployed can make the hours feel empty and unfulfilled if a person is used to filling those hours on the job. However, that same negative effect of time could be turned around and used to one's advantage.

While it is important priority has to be placed on finding a new job, people who are not currently working could carve an hour or two each day and use this time to exercise, meditate or do something else to better their health.  Not only could exercise and meditation potentially battle negative effects on both physical and emotional health, employed or not, but could also help increase self-esteem and work off some of the stress that often accompanies both job loss and job search.

The negative health effects commonly associated with unemployment are many and is a serious matter. However, awareness is the first step to hopefully reducing this issue.