UK recession affecting mental health of men


THE FEAR of unemployment has led to a significant fall in the quality of mental health of English men since the start of the economic crisis four years ago, according to the results of a major survey published yesterday.

The Health Survey for England has tracked health issues among over 100,000 people aged between 25 and 65 in England since 1991 and was analysed in depth by researchers.

Neither losing a job nor falling household income can be blamed for the fall; rather it is the threat of losing their jobs and the anxiety that is caused by that threat that has affected men’s mental health.

“The onset of the global economic downturn, heralded by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, can therefore be considered as a potential threat to public health,” according to the research, published by the medical journal, BMJ Open, an online-only general medical information publication run by the British Medical Association.

The analysis shows that poor mental health results were highest between 1991 and 1993, when the United Kingdom was in a deep recession. Afterwards, mental health results steadily improved as the economy prospered, though they began to disimprove gradually from 2004 until 2008. Subsequently, they disimproved sharply.

In 2008, when the global economic downturn began, the prevalence of mental ill-health recorded by the survey was 13.7 per cent. It rose sharply a year later to 16.4 per cent, before falling back to 15.5 per cent in 2010.

Over most of the period under study, the researchers stress that 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.

Furthermore, they warn that women’s mental health in England is likely to have disimproved since 2010, because they have been more affected than men by the loss of nearly 500,000 jobs in the public sector.

But the study only examined changes in mental health up to 2010, and women may have been affected more severely after this time, particularly given subsequent changes in public sector employment, say the authors.

Justine Schneider, professor of mental health and social care at the University of Nottingham, said that the impact on mental health of job insecurity was worse than joblessness had long been recognised.

Prof Nick Manning, director of the institute of mental health, University of Nottingham, who carried out research in Russia after the collapse of communism, said the results did not surprise.

“Men who found themselves without their jobs and the prospect of new work were less able to cope than women. They suffered a catastrophic rise in morbidity and mortality,” he said.