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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.