Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard School of Public Health, said the economic costs of the downturn get the lion’s share of attention, but the damage to "our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts."
We talk about poverty and inequality resulting from the recession, but we do not take the next step," Viswanath told Harvard Public Health. "We do not extend that logic to the effects on health.”
Michelle Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health said among the known biological effects of chronic stress includes:
-- Higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
-- Sleep deprivation alters the immune and hormonal systems.
-- Depressed mood or anxiety.
-- Increased frequency and severity of upper respiratory infections.
-- Decreased response to vaccines.
-- Shortened teleomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, which are linked to accelerated aging and early death.
“The impact of stress, lack of treatment, lack of capacity to manage one’s life, increased smoking or drinking, eating unhealthy foods, family breakups: those consequences are long-lasting," Viswanath said.
Unemployment has long been associated with physical health and mental health harm. For example, a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2009 found men who lost their jobs in mass layoffs during the 1980s oil crisis and subsequent recession in Pennsylvania had double the risk of dying than those employed. The death risk decreased, but the men who had been laid off were still at significantly higher risk of dying 20 years later.
A 2011 meta-analysis published in Social Science & Medicine, found those who experienced unemployment had a 63 percent higher death risk during the study periods than those who did no experience unemployment.
A study published in Demography found losing a job when a business closes increased the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no pre-existing health conditions, and increased by 83 percent the odds of new health conditions -- stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and emotional and psychiatric problems.
David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu wrote in their book "The Body Economic," all who lived through the recent recession are part of a massive experiment that is still under way.
“Thank you for participating in this clinical trial. You might not recall signing up for it, but you were enrolled in December 2007, at the start of the Great Recession," the book said. "This experiment was not governed by the rules of informed consent or medical safety. Your treatment was not administered by doctors or nurses. It was directed by politicians, economists and ministers of finance.”