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Findings from new study

Men bearing brunt of worsening mental health in England since start of 2008 recession

posted on: Oct 19, 2012

 Men have borne the brunt of worsening mental health across the population of England since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, reveals research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

 
But unemployment and a falling household income don’t seem to be the culprits, prompting the authors to suggest that it may be the threat of losing their jobs that has affected men’s mental health.
 
They base their findings on data taken from the national representative annual Health Survey for England for adults aged 25 to 64, between 1991 and 2010.
 
Response rates during this period varied from 85 per cent in 1991 to 64 per cent in 2008, and included just short of 107,000 people.
 
Respondents were asked about their employment status and educational attainment, and those scoring 4 or more on the General Health Questionnaire-12, which is used to gauge levels of anxiety and depression, were deemed to have a high likelihood of poor mental health.
 
The analysis showed 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, when they started a gradual rise until 2008 at which point they rose sharply.
 
In 2008, when the global economic downturn began, the prevalence of mental ill health was 13.7 per cent, rising to 16.4 per cent in 2009, falling back to 15.5 per cent in 2010.
 
Over most of the period under study, more women than men reported poor mental health. But during periods of recession the sharpest rises in the prevalence of mental ill health occurred among men.
 
In the early 1990s, the prevalence of mental ill health among men rose from 12.3 per cent in 1991 to 14.5 per cent in 1992.
 
A similar trend occurred in the 2008 economic downturn when the prevalence among men rose from 11.3 to 16.6 per cent among men in 2009; among women this rose from 16 to 16.2 per cent.
 
Factoring in age indicated that the prevalence of poor mental health among men increased from the year 2008 by 5.1 per cent in 2009 and by 3 per cent in 2010. There were no such statistically significant increases among women.
 
The study has only examined changes in mental health up to the year 2010 and women may have been affected more severely after this time, particularly given subsequent changes in public sector employment.
 
 
The prevalence of mental ill health was not confined to those out of work; taking account of employment status and educational attainment made little difference to the figures.
 
“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,” say the authors.
 
They suggest that the reason for the gender differences in the impact of recessions could be that men’s mental health is more vulnerable to the fear of job loss. However, they note that this is only one possible explanation that requires further investigation.
 
“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,” they conclude.
 
The findings from the study are intended to help us better understand how health policy and services should respond to economic downturns. “Studying how people’s mental health has changed over time is important. It not only helps health professionals and the health service provide better treatment, it also helps improve our efforts in preventing people from experiencing poor mental health in the future” says Dr. Vittal Katikireddi, the lead author of the study.
 
“The finding that mental health has worsened amongst those who are still in work, and not just those who have lost their jobs, is particularly striking. It highlights the importance of remembering that anyone can be affected by mental health issues” he adds.
 
Vittal Katikireddi has recently published an MRC blog on this study, available here.
 
Contact:
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