The effect of youth unemployment and economic recession in health. Some unexpected results from Spain

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The effects of the economic crisis on mental health have been a recurring matter of speculation and research in the past years. The WHO already published a report on the subject in 2011.  Only last month, several studies/data were widely reported in the media: a study from the US showing a sharp increase in suicides tied to external circumstances at the onset of the financial crisis in 2007; data from the UK showing an increase in male suicides that could be influenced by the recent recession; as well as data from 63 countries showing that unemployment is a far bigger factor in suicides than the economic crisis.

Apart from their effect on mental health, economic recession might also adversely affect general health and lifestyle behaviours. We have just published a study* that looked into self-rated health status, diagnosed morbidity and mental health in young Spanish people in 2006 and 2012 and the effect of unemployment in them. This is very relevant to Spain, as it is one of the countries heavily affected by the crisis, with the unemployment rate reaching 27% for adults and up to 57% in young people.

Data were taken from the 2006 and 2012 Spanish National Health Survey (ENSE). A total of 3701 people aged 16-24 are contributing data to the current publication. The main results of the study can be summarised as follows:

  • Unemployment increased in 2012, especially in men.
  • However, improvement in self-rated health was observed for both genders in 2012 (especially for women)
  • Male unemployment was associated with poor self-rated health, mental disorders and tobacco consumption
  • Unemployed who had never worked consumed less tobacco and alcohol compared to short-term unemployed.

In summary, despite economic recession, young Spanish people presented with better self-rated health, diagnosed morbidity and mental health in 2012 compared to 2006 (especially women). As the authors note, these findings contrast those of other studies from Spain and other European countries too.

How do you think such findings can be explained? The authors offer some possible explanations, but I would also be interested to hear your opinion!




* this paper was written by Isabel Aguilar-Palacio, Patricia Carrera-Lasfuentes and M. José Rabanaque

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