According to new studies, unemployment can hit your heart as hard as it hits your bank balance.
The EU is in its longest recession since it was first announced in 1999 and unemployment in Europe has reached an almighty high with the official figures stating a staggering 19.38 million out of work. Unfortunately, this doesn't look set to change with an incredible 1.6 million people losing their jobs in the months from April 2012 to April 2013.
It's well known that loss of a job can affect your health, particularly your mental health and a high correlation of depressive illnesses associated with job instability has previously been observed. However, a recent study conducted by a working group at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North California have shown that as well as acute mental health problems caused by unemployment, job instability can have a cumulative effect on cardiovascular health. In particular, they found a significant increase in the number of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) in patients with multiple job losses and unemployment.
This was a large prospective study carried out on more than 13,000 middle aged men and women (aged 51 to 75) and they found unemployment status, multiple job losses and time spent in unemployment could be included as significant risk factors for heart attack amongst this age group. In fact, they even went as far as to say the increased risks were similar to that seen with smoking, diabetes and hypertension, highlighting the importance of the situation.
They summarized the effect of unemployment on cardiovascular health as being determined in a similar way to how the risks associated with smoking are assessed. For example, the health risks of a smoker aren't determined by the current 'smoking Vs not smoking' status of a patient, but rather the long term patterns of tobacco use. This would include how many packets a day are consumed and for how many years the person has been a smoker/non-smoker. In this sense, the effect of unemployment shouldn't consider the 'employed Vs unemployed' status of an individual but rather the cumulative number of job losses and cumulative time unemployed. This would mean re-employment after a substantial amount of time spent unemployed wouldn't immediately diminish the negative effects of unemployment. Just like the staggered return of health status in those who quit smoking.
Aside from retirement, which was excluded but shown to cause no increase in risk, the researchers didn't differentiate between exact causes of unemployment but have put down the major risks being brought on my 'involuntary job loss' -IE being fired or made redundant.
Among the study they found:-
i) A 35% increase in risk of heart attacks among the unemployed.
ii) When compared to people experiencing no job loss in a lifetime, there was a cumulative effect of increased risks associated with multiple job loss. 22% increased risk from one job loss to 63% increase with the loss of four or more jobs.
iii) The first year of unemployment presents with the biggest increase in risks.
iv) The risks were consistent, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, education level and socioeconomic situation.
The mechanisms which cause this increased risk are not yet known but it's not rocket science to understand that stress levels rise anytime we lose control of a situation, especially one affecting our income. "An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure" says Dr. Wendy Snell, a senior clinician at private medical center Blossoms Healthcare so the suggestion is to prevent high stress levels. Linda George, a professor of sociology and an author of the study attributed the personal effects of unemployment such as poor diet, strain and conflict in the family household as well as lack of sleep and irregular sleep patterns, as contributing to the increased risk of heart attack. For this reason, she advises people to be extra vigilant during times of unemployment. Monitoring your health status and keeping things in balance are smart moves to make when faced with expected or unexpected periods of unemployment.
Carlo Pandian is an Organisational Development graduate at The University of London and blogs about occupational health and human resources management. When he's not online, Carlo loves foraging in the countryside and cooking Italian food for his friends. Follow Carlo on Twitter at @carlopandian.
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