Economy Taking a Toll on Americans' Mental Health

davidshern Health Guide
  • Economy Taking Toll on Americans' Mental Health

    By David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO, Mental Health America


    The economic downturn is taking a toll on the mental health of Americans. A new national survey finds individuals who are unemployed are four times as likely as those with jobs to report symptoms consistent with severe mental illness.


    And Americans who experienced involuntary changes in their employment status, such as pay cuts or reduced hours, are twice as likely to have these symptoms, even though they are employed full time. Thirteen percent of unemployed individuals reported that they have thought of harming themselves, which is four times more than reported by persons with full time work.

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    The survey, which was conducted for Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in collaboration with the Depression is Real Coalition, clearly shows that the economic difficulties are putting the public's mental health at serious risk and we need affirmative action to address these medical problems.


    The release of the survey coincided with Mental Illness Awareness Week and National Depression Screening Day.  These observances help educate everyone that while mental health conditions are common, they are also extremely treatable.  People can recover if they receive proper treatment.


    Although depression affects 15 million American adults in a given year, fewer than half of people confronting this medical condition seek treatment, regardless of economic or employment status. Many people aren't aware of symptoms or don't realize that what they have is a treatable condition


    That's why it's important to recognize the symptoms of depression and get screened. A free, confidential, online screening test is available at Our information and resources on depression and other mental health conditions and where to go for assistance.


    We also have to improve access to services. The survey on the economic impact on mental health found that a high number of those who reported mental health problems cited a lack of insurance coverage as the reason for not contacting a health professional.


    Another barrier is the discrimination that persists with respect to depression and other mental health conditions. That's why we need greater public education about the importance of mental health and its critical relationship to our overall health.  I believe we missed an opportunity in the economic stimulus plan to put these issues front and center and fund essential services.


    With unemployment and economic problems likely to continue, we can expect the problems the survey reveals to persist. We have to address the health challenges so many people are facing today. We shouldn't wait for an economic recovery to help American recover their physical and mental health.



Published On: October 16, 2009