Mental health in economic crises

Malin Bring

Following the economic crisis that began in 2007, the WHO European Region has experienced changes – a rise in unemployment, an increasing number of people living in poverty, and cuts in public spending – that are detrimental to mental health.

Substantial research has revealed that people, particularly men, who experience unemployment, impoverishment and family disruptions have a significantly greater risk of mental health problems, such as depression, alcohol use disorders and suicide than their unaffected counterparts.

Not only do crises have a negative effect on health, including mental health, but poor mental health also has a knock-on effect on economic development. The economic consequences of mental health problems –mainly in the form of lost productivity – are estimated to average 3–4% of gross national product in European Union countries.

Factors affecting people’s mental health

Protective factors Risk Factors
Social capital and welfare protection Poverty, poor education, deprivation, high debt
Healthy prenatal and childhood environment

Poor prenatal nutrition, abuse, harsh upbringing, poor relationship with parents, intergenerational
transmission of mental health problems

Healthy workplace and living Unemployment, job insecurity, job stress
Healthy lifestyles Alcohol and/or drug use

Further research suggests that countries that buffer the effects of economic crises, through a strong social safety net, protect their populations from the risks to their mental health and enable swifter economic recovery. These social protection initiatives include:

  • active labour market programmes, helping people retain jobs and quickly regain employment;
  • family support measures;
  • restrictions on alcohol availability;
  • debt relief programmes; and
  • access to mental health services.

A new publication, “Impact of economic crises on mental health”, explains the intersectoral action that governments can take to mitigate the effects of economic crises on mental health.