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The Evolution of Mental Health in the Context of Transitory Economic Changes

  • Alexandrina StoyanovaEmail author
  • Jaime Pinilla
Original Research Article

Abstract

Background

Mental health disorders are highly prevalent across countries. They increase over time and impose a severe burden on individuals and societies.

Objective

This paper examines the evolution of mental health over a period of 15 years, paying special attention on the impact of the most recent economic downturn and subsequent recovery, in Spain.

Method

We use data coming from the National Health Surveys of 2006/2007, 2011/2012 and 2016/2017. Mental health is proxied by two measures, doctor-diagnosed mental disorder and psychological distress (based on the 12-item General Health Questionnaire). To account for the relationship between the two mental health indicators, we estimate a bivariate probit model. The potential endogeneity of unemployment status is considered.

Results

We observe different patterns of the two mental health indicators over time. Psychological distress in men increased during recession years, but slightly decreased among women. Diagnosed mental disorders declined during the peak years of the crisis. Unemployment is a major risk factor for mental distress. Irrespective of the economic conditions, belonging to a higher social class acts as a buffer against psychological distress for women, but not for men. The remaining determinants acted as expected. Women declared worse psychological health than men, and were also more often diagnosed with mental disorders. Having a partner had a protective impact, while providing intensive care to a dependent relative exerted the opposite effect. Education acted as buffer against the onset of psychological distress in women.

Conclusion

Even though the need for mental healthcare increased during the recession, the fact that fewer people were diagnosed suggests that barriers to accessing mental healthcare may be aggravated during the crisis. Policies aiming to tackle the challenges posed by the high prevalence of mental disorders have to be particularly attentive to changes in individuals’ socioeconomic situation, including education, unemployment and social class.

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank seminar participants at the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Jornadas AES 2019 in Albacete, and Raquel Andrés for helpful comments and suggestions.

Author Contributions

AS and JP conceived the research. Both authors contributed to analyse the data and interpret the results. Both authors wrote the first draft of the manuscript, critically reviewed and revised it and approved the final version.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Funding

A Stoyanova acknowledges financial support from the Fundación Ramón Areces project “Envejecimiento y sistema sanitario y social. El gasto público y sus efectos en igualdad, dependencia y aseguramiento en España” (162PR19693); and the project “Desarrollo económico, transición demográfica y estado del bienestar en un entorno de globalización”, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Gobierno de España (ECO2016-78991-R).

Conflict of interest

Alexandrina Stoyanova and Jaime Pinilla have no conflict of interest to declare.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Business AdministrationUniversitat de Barcelona, BEAT and CAEPSBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Quantitative Methods in EconomicsUniversidad de Las Palmas de Gran CanariaLas Palmas de Gran CanariaSpain

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