The recession of the past five years has taken a toll on many groups of people. As of May 2013, the American unemployment rate is at about eight percent, but this only accounts for those who are still receiving unemployment benefits. Reasoning of the steady unemployment rate is quite varied — some say there simply are not enough jobs, but some researchers now say that mental health may play a role.

In a study of 27 European countries, researchers surveyed 20,000 people in 2006 and again in 2010 — in other words, before and after the recession. Researchers found vast discrepancies in unemployment rates between the mentally fit and the mentally ill.

In 2006, researchers found that the unemployment rate was at seven percent for people without mental health problems, compared to 13 percent for people with mental health problems. In 2010, after the recession was in motion, both rates rose, but still with a major discrepancy: the mentally fit had a 10-percent unemployment rate, while the mentally ill had reached an unemployment rate close to 18 percent.

Previously, it's been established that those suffering from mental illnesses tend to have higher unemployment rates in healthy economies. Studies have analyzed the social impact of disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and high anxiety. Even in healthy economies, employers are apprehensive about hiring those with mental illnesses as they are thought to be unreliable and a poor investment of resources. As a result, many studies suggest that those with mental illnesses and disorders are at the highest risk of losing their jobs, given that employers perceive them as unstable or dangerous to fellow employees. Similarly, in a time of economic struggle, they tend to be first to lose their jobs due to the marginalization and social stigmas they face.

"This is the first study to show that the European economic crisis has had a profound impact on people with mental health problems, compared to those without," said Sara Evans-Lacko, Ph.D., lead author of the study. The indication that the mentally ill are more affected by economics crises — due to their social exclusion — is a serious issue that ought to be addressed.

"During periods of economic recession, attitudes to people with mental health problems may harden, further deepening social exclusion," said Graham Thornicroft, Ph.D., co-author of this study. Government officials need to be aware of this inequality that mentally ill people face, especially in time of economic hardship. Employers also need to be aware of their legal duty to comply with equal opportunity standards to support people with mental illnesses, who may need employment and medical coverage to manage their ailment moreso than the mentally fit.

Source: Evans Lacko S, Knapp M, Thornicroft G, Mojtabai R. The Mental Health Consequences of the Recession: Economic Hardship and Employment of People with Mental Health Problems in 27 European Countries. PLOS One. 2013.