December 2007 marks the beginning of the United States’ Great Recession, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The recession was a time plagued with unemployment, mortgage crises, and financial insecurities in the American people. The past tense may be used loosely here seeing as the United States is still coming out of one of its worst financial periods in our history. Now, in the midst of 2015, our economy is recovering. The same may be said of our citizens’ mental health status. The recession affected different groups, from couples to adolescents to older adults. Financial stress on a national level is associated with mental health issues, such as depression, suicidal ideation, and high stress levels.
The uncertainty couples faced about their economic future deeply affected their stress levels and mental health during the recession. Will there be food on the table? Will my spouse or I lose our jobs? Are we going to be able to plan for retirement? These are a sample of the questions that went through marital partners’ minds when the recession took place. This highly stressful environment affected communicative styles between couples, as well as their parenting abilities. Corumination exists when couples continually speak negatively with one another about their financial situation. One study suggests that couples’ financial insecurity and their corumination about their economic hardship were negatively associated with their mental health. Specifically, the levels of cortisol, the hormone released during stressful events, increased for some marital partners during the recession. Couples may have experienced a spike in stress levels, which may have affected not only their relationship, but also their mental health.
While couples may have been stressed for years at a time during the recession, older adults may have experienced depressive symptoms and an increase in utilizing mental health services. Depressive symptoms include feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, loss of interest in activities once found pleasurable, and sleeping problems. During the recession, older adults began experiencing symptoms of depression in neighborhoods where foreclosure was prominent. Older adults affected by the recession in this way may be more vulnerable because their health is already declining. The consequences of depression include decreased social relationships and poor physical health among this population.
So, older adults and couples who may have lost their jobs during the recession may have experienced a decline in their mental health, but what about the individuals who continued to stay employed? These individuals did not seem to pass by unscathed. Employed individuals utilized mental health services immediately after the economy took a turn for the worst. Medications, such as antidepressants and sleep aids, were also more commonly used. Why would employed individuals’ mental health still suffer? It could be fear of losing their job, feelings of sadness toward others losing their job, or simply overall uncertainty about this nation and its economy manifesting itself in emotional and physical ways.
The Great Recession is on its way out. What do we do now about the hurricane it has left in its place regarding Americans’ mental health status? Thankfully, studies suggest that mental health services are being taken advantage of even in the aftermath of the recession. Psychiatric and therapeutic support is very helpful in managing symptoms of stress and depression. Couples may need to work on their relationship post-recession and improve their communication patterns with each other. It is clear that financial stress on a national level creates mental health problems on an individual level. It is important as consumers of our nation and of our newscycle that we pay attention to how national issues are affecting us personally and seek mental health services when needed.