Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1013–1021 | Cite as

Poor mental health influences risk and duration of unemployment: a prospective study

  • Peter ButterworthEmail author
  • Liana S. Leach
  • Jane Pirkis
  • Margaret Kelaher
Original Paper



The current paper aims to investigate the role of mental health in determining future employment status. Much of the previous longitudinal and prospective research has focused on how unemployment adversely influences mental health, while the reverse causal direction has received much less attention.


This study uses five waves of data from 5,846 respondents in the HILDA survey, a nationally representative household panel survey conducted annually since 2001. Prospective analyses followed a group of respondents who were not unemployed at baseline across four subsequent years and investigated whether baseline mental health was associated with subsequent unemployment.


Baseline mental health status was a significant predictor of overall time spent unemployed for both men and women. Decomposing this overall effect identified sex differences. For women but not men, baseline mental health was associated with risk of experiencing any subsequent unemployment whereas for men but not women mental health was associated with the duration of unemployment amongst those who experienced unemployment.


By following a group of respondents who were not unemployed over time, we showed that poor mental health predicted subsequent unemployment. On average, men and women who experienced symptoms of common mental disorders spent greater time over the next 4 years unemployed than those with better mental health but there were sex differences in the nature of this effect. These findings highlight the importance of mental health in the design and delivery of employment and welfare policy.


Employment Mental health Health selection 



The HILDA survey was initiated and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). The findings and views reported in this report, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the MIAESR. This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Award 525410 to PB.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Butterworth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Liana S. Leach
    • 1
  • Jane Pirkis
    • 2
  • Margaret Kelaher
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Mental Health ResearchThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Health Policy, Programs and EconomicsThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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