Science

Risk of depression is nearly twice as high for unemployed Americans

The longer a worker goes without a job, the greater the risk of clinical depression
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans out of work for one year says he or she is depressed, @GallupPoll data show
Does unemployment fuel depression, or does depression make it more difficult for workers to find jobs?

Unemployment takes a significant toll on the mental health of workers, especially those who have been out of their jobs for at least 27 weeks – what the Bureau of Labor Statistics considers the “long-term unemployed.”

The longer a person has been out of work, the greater the chances that he or she will develop a clinical case of depression, according to data from a new Gallup poll. Among Americans who have been without a job for three to five weeks, 10% said they were depressed or were being treated for depression. That figure rose to 17% for those who have been out of work for six months to one year. Among people who have crossed the one-year mark, 19% were battling depression, the poll found.

Overall, unemployed Americans were nearly twice as likely as working Americans to be depressed – 12.4% versus 6.4%, according to Gallup.

The poll found that 5.6% of people with full-time jobs said they were depressed or were being treated for depression. They were joined by 8% of people who worked part time and weren’t seeking full-time jobs. Among those stuck with part-time gigs because they couldn’t find full-time work, 10.3% said they were depressed.

But the situation was worse for people without any work at all. The survey found that 12.3% of the short-term unemployed (who had been jobless for fewer than 27 weeks) were depressed, as were 18% of the long-term unemployed.

Those feelings may help explain why people become increasingly pessimistic about their prospects for finding a job the longer they’ve been out of work. Among people who have been unemployed for five weeks or fewer, about 70% think they’ll get a job in the next four weeks. But among people who have been unemployed for at least a year, only 30% believe a job offer will come their way in the next four weeks, the poll found.

It’s not hard to see how being unemployed could lead to depression. But the Gallup report notes that the reverse may be true as well – that people who are depressed could have more trouble finding a new job.

Either way, the poll results could be useful to those who design programs aimed at helping Americans get back to work by highlighting the need for taking their psychological and social well-being into account, according to the report.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 9.8 million Americans were out of work in May, including 3.4 million who were considered long-term unemployed.

The data are based on interviews with 356,599 Americans who were surveyed in 2013 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. That sample included 18,322 who were unemployed at the time of their interview. The poll results were published Monday.

Follow me at @LATKarenKaplan for dispatches about science and medicine.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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