It’s no secret that the U.S. has been through some tough economic times, dating back to 2009. How does this tie in with worsening mental health problems among certain populations? A new comparative analysis of two National Health Surveys may provide some insight.
While the experts have long warned of the negative effects of an economic crisis on overall health, it wasn’t until this most recent analysis that hard data was available to prove the point. The analysis was reported in an article published in the European Journal of Public Health and signed by researchers from the Public Health Agency of Barcelona and the University of East Anglia (in the UK), and is part of the European Research project evaluating the structural impact of policies on health inequalities.
The analysis revealed an increase in mental health problems in men that went from 15 percent in 2006 to 25 percent in 2012. Women’s mental health problems, in comparison, showed a decrease, from 25 percent in 2006 to 23 percent in 2012.
Xavier Bartoll, the first author of a study fielded and reported two years ago that detected worsening mental health patients said that the findings showed not only what was going on in the entire population, but also that “the changes are not homogeneous, but differed according to sex and age and socioeconomic status.”
The mental health declines in men were also concentrated in men aged 35 to 54 (an increase of about 25 percent), with manual occupations (up 22 percent), primary or secondary education (20 percent increase), and was more pronounced among immigrants (up 33 percent).
The questionnaire in that survey included symptoms of anxiety and depression and authors said that the inequality in symptoms among men appeared to be mainly due to the increased proportion of unemployed men. Unemployment is a known risk factor for poor mental health. A more recently published survey found an increase in suicides in middle-aged men.
Women who had a job showed mental health improvement. Bartoll suggested that this may be that many women are “experiencing greater recognition and self-esteem in the new role of breadwinners that they are taking in many families.”
With the economy is still in somewhat of a fragile state, what with long-term unemployment increases, cutbacks in public programs of societal protection that occurred even after the last survey, Bartoll believes that wider consequences for the health of the population may start to emerge.
While there are no comparable studies in the U.S. on the effects of the economic downturn during the past five years on the mental health of specific populations, e.g., Hispanic males, some extrapolation of the European data may shed some light on what might be expected here.
According to U.S. census data, Hispanics are one of the largest and fastest-growing minority populations, expected to triple by 2050 to 132.8 million. As of July 2011, California had the largest number of Hispanics (14.4 million) and New Mexico the largest percentage of Hispanics (46.7 percent). As of 2010, 30 percent of Hispanics lacked health insurance.
Hispanics were more likely than blacks to enter poverty from 2009 through 2011, but also more likely than blacks to exit poverty, per U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Hispanics living in poverty went from 19.0 percent in 2008 to 21.8 percent in 2012. Median Hispanic household income in 2012 was $39,005.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 16 percent of Hispanics self-report a mental health issue. Only one in five, however, will seek care from a general practitioner, and only one in 11 will try to get help from a mental health specialist.
Experts say that the tendency of Hispanics to avoid mental health services means there needs to be more emphasis placed on culturally relevant mental health care. Robin L. Shallcross, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist at the Pacific University School of Professional Psychology, told Huffington Post and other media outlets, “when these [culturally relevant] services are provided in fluent Spanish, without the need for an interpreter… [Hispanics] will seek out and remain in treatment in greater numbers than when services are provided only in English.”