The connection between work and mental health may be more important than is generally thought.  According to new research, those who were unemployed for more than 25 weeks in the past year were more likely than their employed counterparts to experience mental health issues for the first time.

"We found that people exposed to long-term unemployment were three times as likely as employed people over the past year to be exposed to their first bout of psychological distress in a clinically defined way," said study researcher Arthur Goldsmith, a professor of economics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Goldsmith conducted the study along with lead investigator Timothy Diette of Washington and Lee, Darrick Hamilton of the New School University and William Darity of Duke University. They looked at groups of people who had never experienced mental health issues prior to their unemployment.

The researchers attributed their findings to the sense of purpose that work provides.
"When people are exposed to long-term unemployment, they obviously feel that they've lost control of their capacity to earn a living and take care of their families," Goldsmith said in a statement. "They worry about their futures."

The study also found that minority groups and those with higher education backgrounds reported higher incidences of psychological distress.

Mental health issues are not the only problems associated with unemployment, Goldsmith added.

"We see divorce rates are higher during recessions; marriage rates fall during recessions; children growing up in families with unemployed parents perform more poorly in school and tend to have more behavioral problems," he said. "Unemployment is tearing at the very fabric of our society, and I would suggest that we look at this with a greater sense of urgency."

Goldsmith presented his findings today (Oct. 19), during a congressional briefing on the psychological benefits of employment and the impact of joblessness, sponsored by the American Psychological Association.