Share This Article:

Unemployment as a Risk Factor for Mental Illness: Combining Social and Psychiatric Literature

Abstract Full-Text HTML Download Download as PDF (Size:141KB) PP. 131-136
DOI: 10.4236/aasoci.2013.32017    4,196 Downloads   7,154 Views   Citations


Unemployment has been shown to have wide ranging effects on physical and mental health. This review looks to clarify the relationship between unemployment and mental illness specifically, in terms of establishing causality, effect size and moderating factors. The current rational for research combines an etiological approach and interest in the social causation of disease with past work from a social psychological perspective. For this review, PsychInfo, Medline and Embase databases were searched between the years of 1970 and 2011, for prospective studies that include unemployment and mental illness terms. 10 studies were found which matched the inclusion criteria. Studies were included if they studied the long term unemployed, defined the age and gender of their study population, defined their outcome measurements in medical terms, and followed a population prospectively over time. Overall unemployment did precede mental illness; however the exact effect size is unclear. A quantitative meta-analysis was not conducted due to the variability in study design. The discussion tries to point to methodological and theoretical limitations that affect investigations into unemployment and mental illness. It concludes that the work has so far been skewed by individual biases, and that there needs to be wider collaboration between the social sciences and psychiatry.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

Zhang, S. & Bhavsar, V. (2013). Unemployment as a Risk Factor for Mental Illness: Combining Social and Psychiatric Literature. Advances in Applied Sociology, 3, 131-136. doi: 10.4236/aasoci.2013.32017.


[1] Agerbo, E., Eriksson, T., Mortensen, P., & Westergard-Nielsen, N. (2010). Unemployment and mental disorders: Evidence from Danish panel data. International Journal of Mental Health, 39, 56-73. doi:10.2753/IMH0020-7411390203
[2] Agerbo, E., Eriksson, T., Mortensen, P., & Westergard-Nielsen, N. (1998). Unemployment and mental disorders—An empirical analysis. working paper, Centre for Labour Market and Social Research.
[3] Bartley, M. (1994). Unemployment and ill health: Understanding the relationship. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 48, 333-337.
[4] Bolton, W., & Oatley, K., (1987). A longitudinal study of social support and depression in unemployed men. Psychological Medicine, 17, 453-460.
[5] Bonoti, F., & Metallidou, P. (2010). Children’s judgments and feelings about their own drawings. Psychology, 1, 329-336. doi:10.4236/psych.2010.15042
[6] Brenner, M. H. (1979). Mortality and the national economy. Lancet, 2, 568-573. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(79)91626-X
[7] Brenner, S. O., & Starrin, B. (1988). Unemployment and health in Sweden: Public issues and private troubles. Journal of Social Issues, 44, 125-140. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1988.tb02095.x
[8] Burchell, B. J., Ladipo, D., & Wilkinson, F. (2002). Job insecurity and work intensification. London: Routledge.
[9] Cantor-Graae, E., & Selten, J. P. (2005). Schizophrenia and migration: A meta-analysis and review. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 12-24.
[10] Cohn, R. M. (1978). The effect of employment status change on self attitudes. Social Psychology, 41, 81-93. doi:10.2307/3033568
[11] Collins English Dictionary (2011). 11th ed., Collins Press.
[12] Dew, M. A., Bromet, E. J., & Penkower, L. (1992). Mental health effects of job loss in women. Psychological Medicine, 22, 751-764.
[13] doi:10.1017/S0033291700038198
[14] Donovan, R., Jaffe, N., & Pirie, V. M. (1987). Unemployment among low-income women: An explatory study. Social Work, 32, 301-305.
[15] Dooley, D., & Catalano, R. (1983). Health effects of economic instability: A test of economic stress hypothesis. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 4, 46-60.
[16] Dooley, D., Catalano, R., & Wilson, G. (1994). Depression and unemployment: Panel findings from the epidemiologic catchment area study. American Journal of Community Psychology, 22, 745-765. doi:10.1007/BF02521557
[17] Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., & Lynskey M. T. (1997). The effects of unemployment on psychiatric illness during young adulthood. Psychological Medicine, 27, 371-381. doi:10.1017/S0033291796004412
[18] Ferrie, J. E., Martikainen, P., Shipley, M. J., Marmot, M. G., Stansfeld, S. A., & Smith, G. D. (2001). Employment status and health after privatisation in white collar civil servants: Prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal, 322, 647-651.
[19] Frese, M., & Mohr, G. (1987). Prolonged unemployment and depression in older workers: A longitudinal study of intervening variables. Social Sciences and Medicine, 25, 173-178. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(87)90385-6
[20] Fryer, D. M. (1986). Employment deprivation and personal agency during unemployment: A critical discussion of Jahoda’s explanation of the psychological effects of unemployment. Social Behaviour, 1, 3-24.
[21] Graetz, B. (1993). Health consequences of employment and unemployment: longitudinal evidence for young men and women. Social Sciences and Medicine, 36, 715-724. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(93)90032-Y
[22] Jahoda, M. (1982). Employment and unemployment: A social-psycho logical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[23] Kasl, S. V., & Cobb, S. (1980). The experience of losing a job: Some effects on cardiovascular functioning. Psychosomatic Medicine, 34, 88-109.
[24] Lamberg, T., Virtanen, P., Vahtera, J., Luukkaala, T., & Koskenvu, K. (2010). Unemployment, depressiveness and disability retirement: A follow-up study of the Finnish HeSSup population sample. Social Psychiatry Epidemiology, 45, 259-264. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0063-z
[25] Linn, M. W., Sandifer, R., & Stein, S. (1985). Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health. American Journal of Public Health, 75, 502-506. doi:10.2105/AJPH.75.5.502
[26] Marmot, M. G., Adelstein, A. M., Robinson, N., & Rose, G. (1978). The changing social class distribution of heart disease. British Medical Journal, 2, 1109-1112. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.6145.1109
[27] Marwaha, S., Johnson, S., Bebbington, P., Stafford, M., Angermeyer, M. C., Brugha, T., Azorin, J.-M., Kilian, R., Hansen, K., & Toumi, M. (2007). Rates and correlates of employment in people with schizophrenia in the UK, France and Germany. British Journal of Psychiatry, 191, 30-37. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.105.020982
[28] Mckee-Ryan, F. M., Song, Z., Wanberg, C. R., & Kinicki, A. J. (2005). Psychological and physical well-being during unemployment: A meta-analysis study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 53-76. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.90.1.53
[29] Murphy, G. C., & Athanasou, J. A. (1999). The effect of unemployment on mental health. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 72: 83-99. doi:10.1348/096317999166518
[30] Paul, K. I., & Moser, K. (2009). Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analysis. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 74, 264-282. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2009.01.001
[31] Reininghaus, U. A., Morgan, C., Simpson, J., Dazzan, P., Morgan, K., Doody, G. A., Bhugra, D., Leff, J., Jones, P., Murray, R., Fearon, P., & Craig, T. K. J. (2008). Unemployment, social isolation, achievement-expectation mismatch and psychosis: findings from the AESOP Study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43, 743-751. doi:10.1007/s00127-008-0359-4
[32] Secker, J., Grove, B., & Seebohm, P. (2001). Challenging barriers to employment, training and education for mental health service users: the service user’s perspective. Journal of Mental Health, 10, 395-404. doi:10.1080/09638230120041155
[33] Semple, D., & Smyth, R. (2009) Oxford handbook of psychiatry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/med/9780199239467.001.0001
[34] Tandon, R., Keshavan, B. S., & Nasrallah, H. A. (2008). Schizophrenia. “Just the Facts” What we know in 2008. 2. Epidemiology and etiology. Schizophrenia Research, 102, 1-18. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2008.04.011
[35] Warr, P. (1987). Work, unemployment and mental health. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
[36] Weich, S., & Lewis, G. (1998). Poverty, unemployment, and common mental disorders: population based cohort study. BMJ, 317, 115-119.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2018 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.