The mental toll of unemployment

Being out of work for a long period of time could trigger mental health problems such as depression. Arthur Goldsmith, Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, said a study he led found people who have spend a significant period in unemployment are three times as likely to be exposed to physical distress than their working counterparts.

The expert - who worked on the research along with Darrick Hamilton, Lead Investigator at Washington and Lee's New School University and William Darity of Duke University - explained a sense of loss of control over providing for a family is the reason behind this.

"Unemployment is tearing at the very fabric of our society and I would suggest that we look at this with a greater sense of urgency," Prof Goldsmith remarked.

Director of policy and innovation at the Prince's Trust Ginny Lunn said recently that people who have been long-term jobless can be helped psychologically if they become more motivated and confident.

Micheal Gallagher, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "This research by Professor Goldsmith and his colleagues, with backgrounds in economics, urban policy and public policy, was part of a briefing for the US Congress on the psychological benefits of employment and the impact of joblessness, sponsored by the American Psychological Association.

"Their findings will come as no surprise to social, occupational and clinical psychologists in these islands, but perhaps may have a significant impact on US mental health and social security policies, just as Lord Layard's recommendations in 2005 prompted major initiatives in the UK.

"Goldsmith and his colleagues were particularly interested in middle aged people (55 and over) who were experiencing long-term (defined as over 25 weeks) unemployment for the first time.

"They found that people exposed to long-term unemployment were three times as likely as employed people over the past year to be exposed to their first bout of psychological distress in a clinically defined way.

"The team conclude that if people have reached 55 and over with a history of good mental health and react to lengthy unemployment with anxiety and depression, then unemployment is the causal factor. They also noted that some people seem to cope better than others with unemployment - and again we psychologists are not surprised.

"None of us are 'blank sheets' when we encounter negative events and Goldsmith et al's references to locus of control and resilience are familiar to anyone who has studied the psychological effects of the high unemployment of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s.

"It is nice, however, to see the 'dismal science' take on a compassionate aspect."