Unemployment and Job Satisfaction Impact Mental Health

Although depression due to unemployment is an issue, poor quality jobs could also affect mental health negatively. This study was done to investigate whether the benefits of a job depended on psychosocial factors like job insecurity, complexity or unfair pay. The study also assessed whether people with poor quality jobs had better mental health than those with no jobs at all. An analysis of 7,155 people of working age was obtained by a national survey in Australia. It was found that the mental health of unemployed people was generally poorer than those who were employed. However, the mental health of the unemployed was similar to those with jobs of the poorest psychosocial qualities.

It is generally believed that employment is associated with good mental health. Paid workers enjoy the benefits of better access to resources, access to support and more social networks. But the psychosocial qualities of jobs vary, and this could be related to the mental health of the person. Unemployment is associated with a high incidence of depression and the same is true for poor quality jobs. Most previous studies focused on employment status and mental health without taking into account the quality of the job. Hence, this study was done to compare job quality with mental health.

* The data was analyzed from surveys submitted by 7,682 households since the year 2001. The survey used multi-stage sampling and thus there were seven sets of data from the same participants.
* Mental health was assessed using the Mental Health Inventory (MHI), a standard test to assess mental disorders.
* Job security, complexity of the job and job control were a few of the factors regarding the psychosocial qualities of a job assessed in the surveys.

* Overall, 3 percent of the people were unemployed and 5.7 percent of the people had poor jobs.
* On the whole, 9.9 percent of the people had mental health problems.
* Those employed had better mental health with an average mental health score of 75.1; the unemployed people scored an average of only 68.5.
* Unemployed people who had obtained optimal jobs between the surveys showed better improvement in mental health when compared to those who remained unemployed. However, moving from unemployment to poor quality employment showed greater negative effects than staying unemployed.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Not all aspects of psychosocial job quality, like social support at work, were assessed in this study. A few of the results could have been biased, so the study cannot be generalized. The measure of psychosocial qualities in this study was relative because some proportion of the population will always have jobs of poor psychosocial quality regardless of improvements in a person’s job,

Poor psychosocial qualities in a job or unemployment could affect the mental health of those involved. The mental health of these individuals could, however, improve if they were employed. Thus, psychosocial job quality is an important factor, relating work with the mental health of a person. Jobs with poor psychosocial attributes may also have more adverse effects on a person’s mental health than being unemployed. Thus, it may not only be important to be employed, but to also have good satisfaction in employment. Although more research is required to define psychosocial qualities in detail, these factors are pivotal and should be considered in the design of employment policies.

For More Information:
The Psychosocial Quality of Work Determines Whether Employment Has Benefits for Mental Health: Results from a Longitudinal National Household Panel Survey
Publication Journal: Occupational and Environmental Medicine, March 2011
By P. Butterworth; L. S. Leach; Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.