Economic recession could take a toll on your health

The 2008 financial crisis may have had a negative impact on people’s health, new research finds.

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To the long list of problems stemming from the great recession – rising unemployment, homelessness, and poverty – researchers say we can also add physical and mental health issues.

While previous studies have been done looking at the possible health effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, they yielded mixed results.

Now, researchers from England have released a new report analyzing much of the available data on the topic out of Europe.

“Every day we hear and read a lot about the impact of the European financial crisis on health outcomes. The messages are often mixed,” study author Charitini Stavropoulou, senior lecturer at the School of Health Sciences at City University London, told CBS News. “Our aim was to systematically review the literature on the topic, synthesize the evidence across Europe and draw some general conclusions that can inform researchers, policy makers and governments.”

The review, published in The BMJ, included a total of 41 studies, the majority of which focused on Spain and Greece – two countries whose economies were especially hard hit.

The studies showed that the economic crisis did have a negative impact on health for people in these countries, particularly when it came to suicide rates and mental health.

Although the researchers found differences across countries and groups, they found evidence that suicides – particularly among men – rose during the financial crisis.

Similarly, studies looking at mental health issues also showed increases, but these results were more mixed. Women appeared to be more affected by mental health problems than men.

The authors found less evidence that the recession impacted self-reported health and overall mortality.

Furthermore, the health of immigrants, especially those who had illegal status, also appeared to be disproportionally affected when compared to that of other residents.

However, the authors note that many of the studies they analyzed had a high risk of bias because, among other reasons, they look at short timeframes and use data that may be misstated, such as suicides in death certificates.

“Therefore, one should be cautious when interpreting the conclusions these studies reach,” Stavropoulou said.

Yet, experts say the review highlights the need for more research that explores the mechanisms that may lead to better or worse health outcomes during recessions.

In an accompanying editorial, researchers at the University of Liverpool agree that recessions can be harmful to people’s health, and argue that a government’s response can actually make the impact worse.

For example, they point out that one strategy governments often implement is to cut public expenditures, particularly spending on welfare benefits and local government.

One study included in the new BMJ review found that such measures implemented in England in 2010 coincided with a further rise in suicides the next year, which followed the initial increase in suicides in the 2008 recession.

Other research has showed that adequate welfare policies can help reduce some of the harmful effects of economic crises on people’s health, the editorial points out.

“Doctors need to advocate for social and welfare policies that are informed by the evidence available and evaluated for their health effects, so that they protect people during crises rather than creating further health problems,” the authors conclude.

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