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COVID-19, economic crisis and mental health

COVID-19, economic crisis and mental health

The current COVID-19 pandemic, and the public health measures implemented to slow it, have challenged the health and economic systems worldwide, with an important decline in economic activities.

Such a decline in economic activities is known to have caused serious psychological disturbances in the past, for example during the financial crisis from 2008. In 2009, the suicide rates in Europe were 4.2% higher than if the earlier trends have had continued, being men and people in countries with higher levels of job loss particularly affected (1). Other mental health problems were triggered by it. In Greece, the population was 2.6 times more likely to suffer from major depression in 2011 than they were in 2008 (2). Whereas in Spain, when comparing to a pre-crisis period, a survey conducted in 2010 found significant increases in the proportion of patients for many mental disorders, for example: 19.4% increase in major depression, 8.4% increase in generalized anxiety disorder, 4.6% increase in alcohol dependence (3).

Thus, factors associated with economic recession include:

  • Poor mental wellbeing
  • Increase rates of common mental disorders
  • Substance-related disorders
  • Suicidal behaviours

The risk for these factors seems to increase for people who experience unemployment, income decline or unmanageable debts (4).

COVID-19, economic crisis and mental health
Vector de Mujer creado por pch.vector


The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a great economic crisis. An estimated 8.8% of global working hours were lost in 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, which is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs (5). From these working hour losses, 50% are estimated to represent direct employment loss, while the other 50% is represented by working-hour reduction within employment. This represents not only a higher amount of unemployment, but also higher job insecurity. By April 2020, 15% of employees felt they were likely to lose their jobs in the next three months (6). Taking into account that the financial crisis in 2008 had profound effects on the psychological wellbeing of the general working population, the current economic crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have similar negative effects on people’s mental health.

COVID-19, economic crisis and mental health

Vector de DINERO creado por pch.vector


Several studies have been conducted to understand how the current financial and economic crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic affects the general populations’ mental health. Indeed, it has been found that mental health overall decreased after the COVID-19 outbreak (7). A review identified factors that seem to have worsened the mental health of workers during the pandemic (8):

  • Job insecurity
  • Adverse employment environment
  • Long periods of quarantine and isolation
  • Working rights exploitation
  • Uncertainty about the future

For young adults, it has been found that the risk for poor mental health was 2- to 6-times higher in those who had either experienced or anticipated job loss (9). Job insecurity and financial concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been identified as potential sources for greater depressive and anxiety symptoms (7). Moreover, job insecurity seems to influence both directly on mental health and indirectly via creating a higher financial concern, as can be seen in the graph. The chain of thoughts for such a situation could be:

“I might lose my job” ->“I won’t be able to provide support for my family” -> anxiety symptoms

Graph based on Wilson et al., 2020


In conclusion, taking into account the challenges associated with the current epidemiologic and economic crisis, prevention in the area of mental health is more important than ever.

Carlota de Miquel, Psychologist, PhD candidate
Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu, https://www.pssjd.org/

Beatriz Olaya, Psychologist, PhD
Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu, https://www.pssjd.org/


  1. Chang S Sen, Stuckler D, Yip P, Gunnell D. Impact of 2008 global economic crisis on suicide: Time trend study in 54 countries. BMJ. 2013;347(7925).
  2. Economou M, Madianos M, Peppou LE, Patelakis A, Stefanis CN. Major depression in the Era of economic crisis: A replication of a cross-sectional study across Greece. J Affect Disord. 2013;145(3).
  3. Gili M, Roca M, Basu S, McKee M, Stuckler D. The mental health risks of economic crisis in Spain: Evidence from primary care centres, 2006 and 2010. Eur J Public Health. 2013;23(1).
  4. Frasquilho D, Matos MG, Salonna F, Guerreiro D, Storti CC, Gaspar T, et al. Mental health outcomes in times of economic recession: a systematic literature review. BMC Public Health. 2015;16(1).
  5. ILO. ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Seventh edition. Updated estimates and analysis. Int Labour Organ. 2021;(January).
  6. Eurofound. Living, working and COVID-19. Luxembourg: COVID-19 series, Publications Office of the European Union; 2020.
  7. Wilson JM, Lee J, Fitzgerald HN, Oosterhoff B, Sevi B, Shook NJ. Job Insecurity and Financial Concern During the COVID-19 Pandemic Are Associated With Worse Mental Health. J Occup Environ Med. 2020;62(9).
  8. Giorgi G, Lecca LI, Alessio F, Finstad GL, Bondanini G, Lulli LG, et al. COVID-19-related mental health effects in the workplace: A narrative review. Vol. 17, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020.
  9. Ganson KT, Tsai AC, Weiser SD, Benabou SE, Nagata JM. Job Insecurity and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults During COVID-19. J Adolesc Heal. 2021;68(1).