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Job Loss Can Make You Sick

May 13, 2009

Losing a job can lead not just to financial problems but to health-related problems as well, such as hypertension, arthritis, diabetes heart attack and stroke, reports a large U.S. study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In today's state of economic crisis and recession, job loss can happen to anybody, Kate W. Strully, who carried out the study as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release from the foundation. "We need to be aware of the health consequences of losing our jobs and do the best we can in order to alleviate the negative effects."

A team of experts analyzed survey data from more than 8,000 workers, including more than 3,000 white-collar workers and 1,851 blue-collar workers. All of them were asked to give responses to the questions about their health and work history throughout three periods of time -- in 1999, 2001, and 2003. When the answers were analyzed, it was found that individuals who had lost their job were 83 per cent more likely to experience a new health-related problem during the period of the study, compared to people who did not lose their job -- even in the case when they went on to look for a new job. People who had lost a job were 10 per cent more likely to develop a new health condition during the period of the study, such as high blood pressure, heart issues or arthritis when compared to roughly a 5 per cent chance for individuals who had never lost their job.

Researchers said that the risks seemed to hold true for both white- and blue-collar workers. "I would have expected to see less of an effect on white-collar than blue-collar workers but I do not," Strully said, and added that the effect turned out to be quite the same for both groups. To make sure the study participants did not have health conditions or other problems that could have caused them to lose their jobs, the experts specifically examined only those individuals who lost their job because their company or office had shut down. In a second part of the study, the investigators focused on another group of people who reported being fired by a business that did not shut down. They came to the conclusion that there were similar effects on health -- although this time just in blue-collar workers, for reasons that have not been established yet.

The question is now: how can loss of a job increase the risk of developing health problems? There is a number of life changes that can go along with unemployment, including a loss of health insurance and income, and possibly a decline in healthy habits, explained Strully. People may experience hard time when it comes to quitting smoking after losing a job, or it may be harder for them to stick to a healthy diet, she said. What is even more, there is an issue of psychological stress that goes along with it, and it is quite possible that stress itself may be partly responsible for the link, Strully said.

Of course, not all health conditions are necessarily being triggered or caused by the loss of a job. Those problems that can be associated with the psychological stress involved in the situation are most likely to be affected, Strully said, including stroke, hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, arthritis, diabetes and emotional/psychiatric problems. The study also found that even when people were getting another job, they had an increased risk of new stress-related health conditions.

The results are published in the last issue of the journal Demography.

Tags: Career & Money