The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Recession hits men’s mental health worst

Men’s mental health worsens more than women’s during recessions

Louise Prime

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The economic recession that began in 2008 has had a bigger impact on men’s mental health than it has had on women, research has shown. Authors of the study, published online today in BMJ Open, suggest that men might be more vulnerable than women to fears about job insecurity.

Researchers in Glasgow examined data from the national representative annual Health Survey for England for adults aged 25 to 64, between 1991 and 2010. Respondents to the survey answered questions about their employment status and educational attainment as well as the General Health Questionnaire-12 to assess levels of anxiety and depression. People who scored at least 4 in the GHQ-12 were classed as having ‘a high likelihood of poor mental health’.

Poor mental health was most common between 1991 and 1993, when the UK was in recession, then became steadily less common until 2004. After that it again started to become slowly more prevalent, and the rate started to rise sharply in 2008.

Mental ill health affected 13.7% of respondents overall in 2008, 16.4% in 2009 and 15.5% in 2010.

Although generally more women than men reported poor mental health over the whole period studied, the deterioration in men’s mental health during both periods of economic downturn was more marked than that in women. The prevalence of mental ill health rose in men from 12.3% in 1991 to 14.5% in 1992. It rose again in men from 11.3% in 2008 to 16.6% in 2009, when it barely changed in women (from 16% to 16.2%).

The authors found that neither overall declining levels of mental health during the recessions, nor gender differences, could be explained by taking account of unemployment, falling income or differences in educational attainment. They propose that instead, worries about potential job loss could be to blame for rises in mental illness during recession – as found in previous research – and that this might affect men’s mental health more than women’s.

They conclude: “One potential explanation for our results would be that job insecurity during the current recession is responsible for the deterioration in mental health, with men’s psychological health remaining more affected by economic fluctuations despite greater female labour market participation.”

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470