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Unemployment and mental health: Understanding the interactions among gender and family roles

At a glance:
This study looked at how people of different gender and family roles are affected by being out of work. The authors discovered that there were differences between how men and women's mental health
mental health
Emotional wellbeing. Ability to cope with difficulty and enjoy life. THe absence of a mental health problem.
 is affected by being out of work, largely due to differences in men and women's roles within the family.
Perspectives:
Employee
A range of studies have demonstrated that being out of work is associated with poorer health. This includes physical health, and mental health.

The study notes that people out of work have poorer health, and the impact of being out of work is greater for men.

Around the world there has been an increasing focus on the negative health effects of being out of work. Although some roles may have health and safety issues, the greatest overall impact on health is being out of work for long periods.

Many people who have been off work for long periods through a work injury say "if only I had known then what I know now". They see that in the early stages many things could have been done to return to work. Once people have been off work for long periods their return to work is less likely to be successful.
Employer
Helping people back to work and providing a supportive work environment reduces costs and is an integral part of caring for your staff. Studies show that people who remain out of work have poorer mental and physical health.

Managing a return to work can take time, but has us look after our fellow human beings. Long-term problems include poorer mental health and poorer physical health. This is the human impact on the employee - the economic impact on the company tends to mirror the human cost
Treater
Supporting people back to work in the early stages of an injury is part of treating any work condition. A range of studies now show that being out of work carries an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Managing early return to work is important for long-term health and well-being.
Insurer
A return to work can be through a short term approach of helping an individual over the weeks or months of the return to work process. Another way of looking at return to work is the prevention of long-term health problems, such as mental health or other physical conditions. People who remain out of work often experience isolation, depression,
depression
A symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection. Major depression is likely to interfere significantly with everyday activity, with symptoms including insomnia, irritability, weight loss, and a lack of interest in outside events. The disorder may last several months or longer and may recur, but it is generally reversible in the short run.
 poorer financial outcomes, and the impact is on themselves and their families.

In the early stages people may not be aware of the long-term problems of remaining off work. It is suggested they talk to a treating practitioner
treating practitioner
A health professional that treats patients. In return to work this may include doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, psychologists, masseurs, etc.
 about this.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
L. Artazcoz1,2, J. Benach1, C. Borrell2and I Cortes2(2004).

Unemployment and mental health: Understanding the interactions among gender, family roles and social class. American Journal of Public Health; 94(1):82-88

1Department of Experimental Sciences and Health, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.
2Agiència de Salut Pública de Barcelona
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
Being out of work is associated with poor mental health. This could be due to the financial strain
strain
Injury to a muscle in which the muscle fibres tear or become irritated as a result of overstretching or wrenching
 caused, or the loss of other benefits that come from employment, such as social status, self-esteem, physical and mental activity and use of one's skills.

The aim of this study was to look at differences between how men and women's mental health is affected by unemployment, and see how these effects are influenced by family roles and other factors.

The data for this study was obtained from a national health survey in the northeast of Spain. Surveys were sent to people from each of the 8 regions of Catalonia between January and December of 1994.

The study participants were selected from those who responded to the survey and were aged between 25 and 64. People who had a long-term illness, had never been employed, or weren't looking for work were excluded from the study. The authors were trying to exclude people who had a pre-existing illness or mental illness which affected their ability to work.3881 employed (2422 male and 1459 female) and 638 unemployed (371 male and 267 female) workers were included in the study.

The survey measured mental health via a 12-point questionnaire. Each item was rated as absent (0) or present (1) and the results added to get an overall score. People with scores of 3 or above were considered to have poor mental health.

Family roles were defined by marital status (single, married/de facto or separated/divorced/widowed) and parental status (whether they had children under the age of 15 at home).
Study Findings:
Men who were employed were less likely to have poor mental health than those who were out of work.

Women who were employed were less likely to have poor mental health than those who were not working. However, the difference for women was smaller than for men.

Family roles/social class:

Married men who were out of work were much more likely to have poor mental health, while married women who were out of work were only slightly more likely to have poor mental health.
Conclusions:
Three main findings were:

  1. Men and women who were out of work had poorer mental health than those in work. The impact was higher for men than women.
  2. Unemployment has a greater effect on men than on women due to family responsibilities. Marriage increased the risk of poor mental health in unemployed men, while being married and having children protected women from poor mental health.
  3. Marriage and parenthood changed the effect of unemployment on mental health in different ways for men and women.

Being married protected women from poor mental health, but had the reverse effect on men. Women with children were also protected from poor mental health. Marriage and motherhood may provide an additional advantage because they replace the rewards of being employed by providing a meaningful role for them in life. Married women can exchange economic support from their husband for caring for their children. Therefore, greater involvement in family responsibilities can explain the reduced impact of unemployment on mental health among women.

Marriage can be a source of significant strain for men out of work, as they are often expected to generate a significant source of income for the family. Although it is changing, men have traditionally been less involved in nurturing family roles.
References:
PubMed Abstract
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