Study shows health impact of financial crisis

Published: 27 January 2015 at 10:52

New research by Anglia Ruskin economist surveyed over 21,000 citizens in Greece.

New research shows the severe impact the financial crisis has had on people’s health and mental well-being.

The study, led by Dr Nick Drydakis of Anglia Ruskin University, was carried out through 21,000 phone interviews with Greek citizens between 2008 and 2013.  Greece experienced higher levels of unemployment and income loss during the financial crisis than any other country within the European Union or OECD.

By 2010, record levels of national debt led Greece to be placed under the supervision of the troika – the European Commission, the European Bank and the International Monetary Fund – as its leaders signed a series of economic adjustment programmes in return for a bailout worth 240 billion euros.

Dr Drydakis’ study – to be published in the March edition of the journal Social Science & Medicine – examines the impact of the austerity programme on the average Greek citizen, during a period when unemployment increased from 11.8% in 2008-09 to 25.2% in 2010-13.

Dr Drydakis measured individual health status using a 1-5 scale developed by Professor Ann Bowling, allowing interviewees to rate their own health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor, with high scores (5) indicating poor health.

The study found that the health status of the unemployed declined by 10.5% from an average of 2.97 (2008-09) to 3.48 (2010-13).  During the same period, the health status of those in work also declined, but by a smaller amount (4.8%), from an average of 2.28 (2008-09) to 2.52 (2010-13). 

Mental health was measured using the CES-D scale. The possible range of scores is zero to 60, with higher scores indicating the presence of more depressive symptoms.

The research discovered that mental health status deteriorated by 7.8% amongst the unemployed, with the average score rising from 9.39 out of 60 (2008-09) to 14.05 out of 60 (2010-13). A similar pattern was seen amongst those in work, with average mental health status declining but by a smaller amount (5.5%) from 7.82 to 11.14.

The study also found that women were more negatively affected by unemployment in relation to their health and mental health status than men. 

And financially, the average citizen saw their level of debt increase significantly. For the period 2008-09, for all groups, the average Greek was 10.57 euros worse off every month.  This increased to a massive 255.65 euros per month in 2010-13. 

Dr Drydakis, Reader in Economics at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“During the 2010-13 period, Greece faced significantly lower labour demand, higher long-term unemployment, higher debt, and increased poverty, all of which may have had a detrimental effect on people’s mental health."

“However, the severe economic effects of the financial crisis were not alleviated by public health policies. State funding for mental health decreased in Greece by 20% between 2010 and 2011 and by a further 55% between 2011 and 2012."

“Equally a reduction in income can significantly restrict access to health care, such as purchasing medication. Indeed, the rate of self-reported unmet needs for medical care because care was ‘too expensive’ rose from 4.1% in 2009 to 6.3% in 2011."

“During times of economic hardship, social protection responses are crucial for preventing or mitigating the adverse effects of unemployment on health status and mental health.”