Job loss can lead to downward spiral of depression and poor health

October 06, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Job loss and its related financial strain put people at elevated risk for emotional and physical problems, according to researchers studying the consequences of being unemployed. This finding is reported on in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Unemployment can start a vicious cycle of depression, loss of personal control, decreased emotional functioning and poorer physical health, according to lead author Richard H. Price, Ph.D., and co-authors Jin Nam Choi, Ph.D., and Amiram D. Vinokur, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan.

The authors came to this conclusion from interviewing 756 recently unemployed job seekers. The subjects had been unemployed for less than 13 weeks, were actively looking for a job and were not expecting to retire within the next two years. Their average age was 36 years old. Forty-one percent were male and 59 percent were female. Seventy-five percent were White, 21 percent were African American and three percent were from other ethnic groups. Fifty-two percent of the sample were married or lived with a romantic partner. Their education varied: 9 percent had not completed high school; 32 percent had completed high school; 36 percent had some college education; 11 percent had completed four years of college and 11 percent had completed more than four years of college.

At the beginning of the study, the participants rated their current and anticipated financial strain, answered questionnaires concerning depression, personal control, health and emotional functioning. They also responded to these questions at six months and then again at two years.

The results show that this chain of adversity (job loss-financial strain-depression-personal control-emotional functioning-physical health) appears to continue over two years, suggesting "that even reversible life events such as job loss can have lasting effects on those who experience them." At the end of two years, 71 percent were re-employed, working at least 20 hours or more per week but still reported the negative effects of their job loss.

These findings suggest that increases in depression and loss of personal control with those who lose their jobs can have adverse affects on health and emotional functioning for longer than the initial triggering event - job loss, possibly interfering with finding another job, said Dr. Price. Professionals working with suddenly unemployed people should be aware of this chain of events and be ready to help these individuals improve their mental health so they better their chances of re-employment and interrupt the downward cycle.
Article: "Links in the Chain of Adversity Following Job Loss: How Financial Strain and Loss of Personal Control Lead to Depression, Impaired Functioning, and Poor Health," Richard H. Price, Ph.D., Jin Nam Choi, Ph.D., and Amiram D. Vinokur, Ph.D., University of Michigan; Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 7, No. 4.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at

Richard H. Price, PhD can be reached by telephone at 734-763-0446 or by email at The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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