Lessy Diaz is unemployed. She feels frustrated because she has worked all of her life and now she feels like she is not being a productive member of society. The worst thing, according to Lessy, is to think that all those years of professional development and diligence are worth nothing. Lessy candidly shared how the financial stressors have a toll on her marital relationship. “We struggle to keep the harmony,” she says. Being unemployed has also limited Lessy’s social life. “You can’t afford going out with your friends, you end up feeling isolated,” Lessy says. “Physically and emotionally it is not the same even though you are supposed to have more time, you feel consumed by the day-to-day household chores that you don’t take the time to take care of yourself.” The effects of unemployment are “innumerable,” she says, adding that after being without a job for some time “you feel worthless.” Being a mom has helped her persevere, however. “They are a potent reason to press on,” Lessy says.
William Castro and Alonso Molina echoed Lessy’s sentiment about the effects of unemployment on their mental health. William is an architect, but was working as a bilingual teacher. The financial struggles and the fact that he does not have stable employment anymore are a constant source of stress for William. “Sometimes I feel useless,” William says. “Socially, I don’t feel like being around my friends and relatives since everybody knows about our financial struggles.”
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Alonso Molina used to teach philosophy in an institution of higher learning. He, too, feels as though his self-esteem has been affected because he is unemployed. “Besides the obvious economic reasons, working is part of fulfilling our role in society and it also helps us feel as a whole person,” Alonso says.THE STATISTICS According to recent numbers released by the US Bureau of Statistics, the current unemployment rate in the United States is 8.2 percent. The numbers are higher for certain segments of the population; unemployment among Latinos is 11.0 percent and for African Americans is 14.4 percent Yet numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Studies are confirming the relationship between unemployment rates and rates of overall mortality, especially due to cardiovascular diseases and suicide. Aggregated data seem to suggest that the impact of unemployment is the same in North America as it is in Europe, Africa and other parts of the world; there is a strong association between unemployment and adverse health outcomes. ADVERSE HEALTH OUTCOMES Although a causal relationship has not been established between unemployment and adverse health outcomes, there seems to be growing evidence to support the strong connection between the two. A study done by Harvard University found that unemployed workers were twice as likely to report developing heart diseases or diabetes within a year from having lost their jobs. Stress—typically caused by financial difficulties—has a negative impact on mental and physical health outcomes mainly because it leads to changes in health behavior. People who are unemployed stop going to the doctor to monitor health concerns, they have less or no resources and desire to participate in leisure activities that may help them cope with stress; their eating and drinking habits change leading to over indulge on comfort foods and alcohol to help them deal with their stress and anxieties.