June 4 2009|03.17 PM UTC

Samantha Eckles

7 Ways Recessions Impact Your Health

Category: Personal FinanceTags: ,

Everyone knows about the financial burdens of the recession – lost income, layoffs, and depleted investment portfolios – and the people suffering from them. What has not been discussed so often are the health burdens increasingly falling on those very same people. Imagine how terrible it must be to become depressed, be unable to sleep at night, or even suffer a heart attack on top of losing your job or life savings. Tragically, we don’t have to imagine it – these and other health problems are plaguing recession victims every day. Here are seven of the most serious and well-documented health-related implications.

Loss of health insurance

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The most obvious recession-related threat to one’s health is the potential loss of health insurance. Because employers can deduct health expenses but individuals cannot, employees have come to rely on their jobs to provide them with health insurance coverage. (Some even remain at certain jobs for no other reason than that.) Unfortunately, when people get laid off, their health coverage usually follows their job right out the door. This makes AmericanProgress.org’s report that 663,000 people lost their jobs in April alone quite frightening.

The problem is twofold: first, the actual loss of health coverage, and second, the subsequent stress and anxiety caused by one’s reaction to losing said coverage. Sadly, this is often enough to set many of the health problems discussed below into motion.

Depression

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Something about the human brain makes us crave purpose and meaning from our lives. This is explained in Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs and elsewhere. For most people, one’s occupation is a primary source of meaning, helping them to feel competent and worthwhile in addition to just paying the bills. So it’s no surprise that sudden, unexpected job loss is often enough to send someone spiraling into depression. Discovery.com tells the tragic tale of a woman whose layoff-related depression manifested itself in the form of rapid weight loss, drastically altered sleep patterns, headaches, and psychical exhaustion. Her experience was not uncommon and is likely shared by many of those who have lost their jobs since fall 2008.

Anxiety

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Few things are as anxiety-provoking as suddenly finding yourself out of a job. According to the New York Times, “many people are seeking guidance from therapists about how to confront the storm that has hit the job market and toppled their lives”, searching for a way out of the feelings of worry, nervousness, and instability that characterize anxiety. Especially worrisome are the eventual consequences of anxiety when it is left untreated. As 4Therapy.com notes, anxiety can bubble beneath the surface and devolve into full-blown depression. If you find yourself constantly feeling on edge, worried, and dreading even the most trivial of challenges following the loss of your job (or any of the other anxiety symptoms on HelpGuide), consider seeing a cognitive-behavioral therapist before it gets worse.

Sleep deprivation

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The tragic thing about so many of these health problems is that having one usually exposes you to a handful of others. Such is the case with sleep deprivation. As HealthCentral.com explains, both anxiety and depression are neurologically linked to sleep deprivation, a finding that was documented in the October 2007 issue of the scholarly journal Current Biology. This finding on HC further explains how serious and harmful deprivation of sleep can be: going without sleep for any more than 24 hours, “leads to impaired reflexes, difficulties in problem solving, and irritation”, while more than 48 hours of sleeplessness can trigger “confusion, mis-perceptions, and task requiring attention becoming significantly impaired.”

High blood pressure

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According to a study discussed by Discovery Health and published in the May 8, 2009 issue of Demography, people who suddenly lose their jobs face an increased risk of high blood pressure – even once they find new jobs! Also known as “hypertension high blood pressure”, this condition is described by WebMD as one of the most dangerous of all health problems. By forcing the heart to work harder at pumping blood, hypertension places undue strain on the entire body and in extreme cases can lead to total heart failure. Worst of all, hypertension is often referred to as a “silent killer” because many victims see no symptoms until serious problems surface later on.

Heart disease

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Reported by America.gov to be the number one cause of death in the US, heart disease is an eventual outgrowth of high blood pressure. Undetected and allowed to worsen, heart disease can form without early symptoms and eat away at your heart’s functioning until you (and doctors) are virtually powerless to heal it. And since unexpected job loss has already been linked to hypertension, it’s only logical that those who are laid off should be extra vigilant about adopting heart healthy habits like those advised on AmericanHeart.org.

Diabetes

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Some readers might find it a stretch to tie a condition as debilitating and dreadful as diabetes to the stress of the recession. But according to emerging research covered by TIME Magazine, the link is real and deserves to be taken seriously. According to State University of New York sociologist Kate Strully, some 80% of people surveyed as having lost their jobs due to factors beyond their control (as is common today) developed problems including – among other things – diabetes in the eighteen months that followed. Remarking further on her study, Strully noted that,  “…job loss leads to a lot of physiological changes.” If the possibility that sudden joblessness could lead to a life of being chained to insulin injections, strict diets, and doctor’s visits doesn’t illustrate the health risks of a recession, nothing will.

What can recession victims do to stay healthy?

If there’s a silver lining to all of these frightening health issues, it’s that many of them can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle. Others can be treated – in addition to a physician’s care and consultation – with similar and intuitive methods. For instance, the symptoms of anxiety can be curtailed by taking action, thinking positively, and getting regular exercise.  Regular exercise and can also have a positive impact on those suffering from diabetes, hypertension and heart conditions, which will also benefit from sensible diet modifications.

Because so many of these conditions are related, for instance, anxiety can lead to or exacerbate sleep deprivation, which can lead to depression symptoms, prevention and treatment tend to take a similar note. For instance, if an hereunto sleep-deprived individual suddenly started getting better sleep, other health issues could become less-pronounced. Of course every individual’s circumstances are unique, and therefore individuals should seek the help of a specialist if suffering from one of the above conditions. In any case, make sure that you try and  adopt the view that although you cannot control the economy, you can control how you yourself react to bad news and strive to preserve your peace of mind (and body) in the face of it.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnny MAck June 4, 2009 at 9:11 pm

All I know is I feel like sleeping a LOT!

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Steve June 4, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Once upon a time I was very stable. I’m not unskilled. Every one of these happened to me within two years, and without health insurance, the hospital and medical bills evaporated my equity and savings and forced me into bankruptcy. I’m living with generous extended family. Now I’m 55 with all that and a year of disability working against me as I try to overcome it all and find a way to earn a living and pay off non-discharged debt…now what?

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Curt from Dotcomify June 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm

This are great points. I would say that the best thing we can do to stay healthy and positive is to exercise daily. Preferably first thing in the morning.

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Jason June 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm

This article sounds like some familiar points. I felt the pain of losing large amounts of money in the stock market because of our economy. That created a lot of stress and depressions on its own. Losing my job I also lost my health insurance. Lucky for me a friend recommended ngihealthplans.com. I know what most of you are thinking is that I am trying to get people to go visit this site, but this is truly for those of you in need of health insurance. They provided me with the perfect plan for me and my family and really relieved stress from my life knowing without a job I was still able to have affordable insurance.

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lori June 13, 2009 at 9:07 pm

This is all true. When my husband’s company was acquired by another, the stress of impending “down-sizing” was immense, as was the actual resulting action. We also went with Cobra for as long as we could until I was able to get us self-insured, but it is very expensive. The one advantage, if there is one, of being self-insured is that I was forced to go through so many mounds of paperwork to GET insurance that I seriously vowed never to do that again, so I shifted to a digital format and created personal health records for every member of my family. I use HealthVault, but there are others out there, too. Insurance is like banking, if you don’t need a loan, you can get one; if you’ve never been sick, you can get healthcare. And to demonstrate that, you need up to 10 years worth of records. It’s ridiculous, but that’s the program right now. Taking initiative is empowering in any part of your life, big or small, can improve your outlook and thus your health. If you know anyone who has lost a job in this economy, I would urge you to reach out and just give them a call and say hi. Just a little thing like that makes a huge difference.

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BillShrink Guy June 14, 2009 at 2:25 am

Thanks for sharing everyone. Steve, I’m sorry about your situation and I wish I can give more than a simple feedback, but I’m glad to read that you have a generous extended family that’s willing to lend a hand during difficult time.

Lori, good job on being proactive about getting everything in a digital format. You’re absolutely right that during difficult times, everyone should give loved ones and friends a ring if they know they’re in a bad spot. Not everyone needs a hand out, but knowing others care can certain be encouraging during difficult times.

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Mike August 3, 2009 at 9:01 am

This is exactly what happens. I don’ know if one part is harder than any other. I got so fed up – I even made my own comedy website to cope and reach out to others. I guess the missing part of all the advice is how to deal with their new found isolation. You’re friends at work slowly fade away, your family relations are strained. Anyone who is not laid off can not really relate to the downward spiral.

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jami February 17, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I am beside myself right now. Stressed out, tapped out. This is my 3rd layoff in 6 years. I am SO sad, angry, hurt, mad.. I feel like I start a new position and never get a chance to recover from the last layoff, before I am laid off again. THIS IS NUTS. sigh.

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