It’s fairly well-established that being unemployed for any length of time has some serious implications for our mental wellbeing. For instance, I wrote earlier this year about some research highlighting the changes unemployment can bring to our personalities, with the long-term unemployed often becoming less open, agreeable and conscientious. Of course, all of these traits are pretty useful when looking for work, so it’s not a good situation at all.
See also: Could Unemployment Lead to Addiction?
What about our physical health, though? Does unemployment have a similar impact on that as it does our mental wellbeing? A recent paper suggests that there may indeed be some considerable health implications of being unemployed for a prolonged period, including an increased risk of getting cancer.
The health implications of unemployment
The study, which was published in ecancer, suggests that a period of unemployment is linked with a big rise in prostate cancer mortality levels.
It’s believed to be the first study of its kind to explore the precise consequences of unemployment, especially in a recession as deep and severe as the recent credit crunch-inspired recession, has on the number of deaths by relatively treatable diseases, such as prostate cancer, for example.
The research found that the negative effect of unemployment on our health continued for a minimum of five years after a relatively small rise in unemployment of one percent.
What causes the change?
The authors wanted to rule out any other potential causes for a drop in mortality, such as the unemployed tending to belong to social groups that are more prone to prostate cancer mortality, and the data would appear to suggest that isn’t the case. When the data was controlled for such circumstances as infrastructure, economic factors, healthcare spending and subsequent resources of hospitals, the trend remained strong.
As for what causes the correlation, however, the researchers are not entirely sure and are keeping an open mind as to any possible reasons for it. They suspect, however, that it is a mixture of factors, including societal challenges, nutrition and possibly even the psychological changes mentioned at the start of this article.
"There are two broad implications emerging from this study," the authors explain. "First, policies that support employment may have positive knock-on effects on mortality rates from a treatable disease such as prostate cancer. Second, healthcare professionals should be aware of the additional risks entailed by unemployment, and facilitate access of care to this population. Both policy makers and clinicians can work together to mitigate the health outcome effects of unemployment."
Of course, if you are unemployed, all of this worry is unlikely to help matters, but the authors do offer a slight ray of hope. They suggest that efforts to improve employment levels will also have a knock-on benefit on prostate cancer survival rates, which may be scant consolation to you if you’re currently in a period of unemployment but it may be enough to prod the government to do more to help you back into work.