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Recession Adds to Ranks of Americans With Depression

Being unemployed or underemployed puts mental health at risk, survey finds

THURSDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Unemployed Americans are four times more likely than those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness, such as major depression, according to a new national survey that reveals the mental health toll of the recession.

The poll of 1,002 adults aged 18 and older also found that people with jobs who were forced to accept work changes, such as reduced hours or pay cuts, were twice as likely to have symptoms.

The findings were released to coincide with Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 4 to 10) and National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 8). The survey was conducted last month for Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Depression Is Real Coalition.

"This survey clearly shows that economic difficulties are placing the public's mental health at serious risk, and we need affirmative action to address these medical problems," David L. Shern, president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a news release. "Individuals confronting these problems should seek help for their problems -- talk to their doctor, trusted friend or advisor or mental health professional."

"Unemployment today stands at almost 10 percent. Nationwide, we face a mental health crisis as well as an economic crisis," Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said in the news release.

Among the other survey findings:

  • 13 percent of unemployed people said they've had thoughts of harming themselves -- a rate four times higher than for those with full-time jobs.
  • Unemployed people are about six times more likely to have trouble meeting household expenses. Twenty-two percent said they have great difficulty paying their utilities, and nearly half said it's difficult for them to obtain health care, which further compounds their situation.
  • Respondents without jobs were twice as likely to report being concerned about their mental health or use of alcohol or drugs within the last six months. Among those who hadn't spoken to a health professional about these concerns, 42 percent said cost or lack of health insurance was the main reason.
  • Nearly 20 percent of respondents said they'd had to accept forced changes, such as reduced hours or pay cuts, during the last year. They were five times more likely to report feeling hopeless most or all of the time than people who hadn't experienced a forced change at work.

"There is no shame in seeking help to overcome unemployment or a medical illness. For the sake of all our loved ones, it's important to learn to recognize symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses. Screening helps. Talk with a doctor about any concerns," Fitzpatrick advised.

Major depression affects about 15 million U.S. adults (5 percent to 8 percent of the adult population) each year. Only half of people with major depression seek treatment, regardless of their economic or employment situation, the survey found.

More information

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers advice for getting through tough economic times.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Mental Health America, news release, Oct. 6, 2009

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