UL Research shows how the stress of unemployment gets inside the body

Research is being undertaken by the Study of Anxiety, Stress and Health Lab at the University of Limerick. The research is supported by the Irish Research Council and looks at stress, unemployment, and the consequences this may have on people’s health.

Dr Stephen Gallagher Director of SASHlab and Dr Rachel Sumner postdoctoral researcher and project manager have recently published their findings in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, providing new evidence about the impact that unemployment may have on health.

Previous research has found that unemployment is a risk factor for depression, with those who become unemployed showing higher rates of depression compared to those who are employed. We aimed to extend this line of research to see whether the stress associated with unemployment also had a negative effect on the hormonal health of those unemployed. We were particularly interested in looking at hormones associated with stress, accelerated aging, heart disease, and depression.

The results from our study confirm that unemployed people are not just more stressed, stigmatised, depressed and report poorer physical health compared to those who are employed; they also display a less healthy hormonal profile compared to those who were employed. These irregular hormonal patterns are not only similar to those experiencing chronic stress, but similar patterns have been seen in those with depression and heart disease. Our early reports also suggest that self-esteem and social support may be factors that can change someone’s experience of unemployment. Those people who have more social support tend to fare better during unemployment, while those with higher stress and lower self-esteem fare worse biologically. These are important factors to consider in providing support and help to those who are out of work.

Dr Gallagher says that “Our initial findings of this study not only confirmed that unemployment constitutes a psychological risk for health; it now demonstrates that the stress associated with unemployment constitutes a biological risk. This indicates that the stress from unemployment may put these individuals at risk of disease or exacerbate any underlying health conditions”

While Dr Sumner suggests that “it also underscores the importance of providing support and interventions to those who are unemployed to counteract the negative experiences associated with unemployment.”

Details of the study can be found here http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.03.011