Depression Is One of Many Tolls of Recession

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The full impact of unemployment goes beyond financial woes and foreclosures. There is a human toll as well, and some unexpected ways the jobless rate is leaving its mark.

Researchers at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University are among those looking to understand the short- and long-term impact of the recession and its most direct impact, near-double-digit unemployment.

Two-thirds of respondents to a recent academic survey said they are depressed, showing another human toll from the recent recession.

In a study titled The Anguish of Unemployment, the center surveyed 1,200 Americans nationwide who have been unemployed and looking for a job in the past 12 months, including 894 who are still jobless. It sums up the respondents as "a shaken, traumatized people coping with serious financial and psychological effects from an economic downturn of epic proportion."

The survey found that 60% of the recently unemployed lost their jobs suddenly, without warning; 80% got two week's notice or less. Just 15% of the jobless got severance, and virtually none were offered retraining. Only half of the jobless walked away with health benefits.

The stress of unemployment is taking a toll, the researchers said. Two-thirds of respondents said they are depressed. More than half have borrowed money from friends or relatives and -- perhaps related -- three in four say their economic situation has had a major impact on them and their family.

"Millions of unemployed Americans are suffering economic and personal catastrophes," Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center, said in as statement. "This is not your ordinary dip in the business cycle. Americans believe that this is the Katrina of recessions. Folks are on their rooftops without a boat. The water is rising, and many see no way out."

According to the Rutger's research, "The personal and family impact on the respondents suggests a mental health epidemic that could have long-lasting effects."

Three-quarters of those still jobless reported stress in their daily lives; three-fifths feel helpless; and more than half say they're angry. Significant numbers reported having trouble sleeping, avoiding social situations, strained family relations and increased substance dependency.

Similar findings come from the Pew Research Center in a survey and study last year.

Nearly half (46%) of those unemployed six months or more say joblessness has strained family relations, compared with 39% of those who were out of work for less than three months. At the same time, 43% of the long-term unemployed say they lost contact with close friends.

The long-term unemployed also are significantly more likely to say they sought professional help for depression or other emotional issues while out of work (24% versus 10% for those unemployed less than three months), the study found.

Though comprehensive data on unemployment-related suicide rates is still being formulated by numerous researchers, the trend may be illustrated by how the recession affected calls to the National Suicide Hotline. In 2007, before the recession, the hotline got 13,423 calls. In 2009, the incoming calls jumped to 57,625.

It's an increase of 329%.

Divorce
There is some "good news" possibly related to the recession and continuing high unemployment. Divorce rates have actually decreased.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people in 2009, compared with 3.5 per 1,000 in 2008 and 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2007. More telling, perhaps, is that divorce filings were nearly one-third lower since the start of the recession in East Coast states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

The good news may be short-lived, though, if history repeats. According to government statistics, divorce rates also fell during the Great Depression, but, post-recovery, roared back at nearly twice the numbers. For now, couples may be postponing the inevitable because of a belief "two can live as cheaply as one." Having diminished assets to divide in a settlement is likely keeping others from moving on.

Healthy eating
A recent paper published under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research found unemployment has what might be considered a Broccoli Effect.

Every percentage point increase in unemployment correlates to a 2% to 4% reduction in the frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption and an 8% reduction in salad consumption, according to economists at Bentley University in Massachusetts and Queens College in New York. A possible link: Those with mental health and anxiety problems have shown similar declines in their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Homelessness
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, in its new report on the State of Homelessness in America 2011, makes the case that economics play as big a role in homelessness as mental health issues.

The nation's homeless population increased by about 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009, it found. A majority of states -- 31 of 50 states and the District of Columbia -- had increases in their homeless counts. The largest increase was in Louisiana, where the homeless population doubled.

The largest percentage increase was in the number of families, which increased by more than 3,200 households (a 4% increase). In Mississippi, for example, the number of people in homeless families increased by 260%.

Its tally of state statistics for "poor households experiencing severe housing cost burden" found that those in this grouping who were unemployed rose from 8.9 million in 2008, the peak of the recession, to 14.3 million in 2009, a nearly 60% increase.

State budgets
According to research by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation, as unemployment rates rose from 5.5% in June 2008 to 9.5% a year later, state-by-state Medicaid enrollment spiked at historic rates.

In June 2009, monthly Medicaid enrollment rose by 3.3 million, to 46.9 million in total, a 7.5% increase over June 2008. By comparison, in 1990, there were a mere 23 million people in Medicaid programs.

States, already reeling from lost payroll taxes and the cost of unemployment support services, will feel the crunch of these expanded rolls. As the legislative year begins, numerous states are proposing cuts to specific services, such as vision and dental care, and a reduction in hospital reimbursements. Facing a $1 billion budget shortfall by July, Arizona stoked controversy last last year by cutting off payments for seven kinds of organ transplants.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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