Economic Boom & Bust - The Business Cycle and Mental Health

By Ravind Jeawon (BBS, PGD) - Talk Therapy Dublin on February 22, 2018

 Over the past seven years my community based work in Dublin as a psychotherapist and also in advocacy roles has put me face to face with the harsh effects of economic recession.  I have worked with many individuals & families still experiencing hardship directly linked to the fallout from the most recent Irish recession, issues such as sudden homelessness,  unexpected unemployment, serious accommodation issues and often associated family disintegration.  

These experiences have repeatedly brought home to me how economic recession and the “boom bust” nature of the business cycle has serious implications for the Irish nation’s mental health.  Results from the Growing Up in Ireland Study on how the most recent Irish recession impacted on families and children indicated that economic strain caused by unemployment and falling family incomes had damaged parental mental health and had knock on effects on child mental health.  

This study, conducted by a research team led by Trinity College Dublin and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI),  has been monitoring the development of almost 20,000 children and young people at various ages since 2007 and puts some data and context behind the discussion.  

Some of the key findings are below

The proportion reporting that they had some degree of difficulty in ‘making ends meet’ doubled, rising from 31% in 2008 to 61% in 2011.

Adjusting for other changes in family circumstances over the period, worsening economic strain increased the risk of depression among both mothers and fathers.

Parents who experienced increased psychological distress tended to employ harsher styles of parenting. This change was true for parents across all levels of education.

The relationship between mothers and fathers was highly sensitive to economic strain. Parents under strain reported more arguments, felt less close and were more likely to report that they were unhappy with their relationship.

The effect of economic strain on perception of the relationship was higher among mothers compared to fathers.

Worsened relationships between children and parents were associated with higher child anxiety and worse conduct as well as lower child happiness.

Lower educational test scores were largely explained by worsening child conduct and emotional symptoms during the recession.  

As we experience a new part of this cycle, with talk of "recovery"  and an end to recession it is worth pausing to think about whether our current approach to areas like health, housing and employment has evolved at all in light of our recent experiences.

This becomes more urgent when considering impending changes in the wider global environment, well beyond Ireland’s control.   Changes to global corporate tax policy, Brexit and demographics ( like our own expanding/ageing population) are all likely to figure in the next phase of this cycle.


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