Mental Health and Unemployment

I posted recently on the implications of the emerging literature on the economics of mental health in the Irish context. I am currently working on some projects looking at the role of mental health in life-long economic outcomes. One of the first papers from this project is below. It shows a substantial predictive effect childhood distress throughout childhood and adolescence on later trajectories of unemployment and also evidence that this becomes particularly marked during recessions. Apologies for self-promotion but I would like to flag an event we are running in Stirling on this topic on December 5th for which there are still places if people wish to attend. Also people interested in working on this area as a researcher or PhD student please feel free to get in touch.

 Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment: Evidence from two British cohort studies

Mark Egan, Michael Daly, and Liam Delaney

AbstractThe effect of childhood mental health on later unemployment has not yet been established. In this article we assess whether childhood psychological distress places young people at high risk of subsequent unemployment and whether the presence of economic recession strengthens this relationship. This study was based on 19,217 individuals drawn from two nationally-representative British prospective cohort studies; the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS). Both cohorts contain rich contemporaneous information detailing the participants’ early life socioeconomic background, household characteristics, and physical health. In adjusted analyses in the LSYPE sample (N = 10,232) those who reported high levels of distress at age 14 were 2 percentage points more likely than those with low distress to be unemployed between ages 16 and 21. In adjusted analyses of the NCDS sample (N = 8985) children rated as having high distress levels by their teachers at age 7 and 11 were 3 percentage points more likely than those with low distress to be unemployed between ages 16 and 23. Our examination of the 1980 UK recession in the NCDS cohort found the difference in average unemployment level between those with high versus low distress rose from 2.6 pct points in the pre-recession period to 3.9 points in the post-recession period. These findings point to a previously neglected contribution of childhood mental health to youth unemployment, which may be particularly pronounced during times of economic recession. Our findings also suggest a further economic benefit to enhancing the provision of mental health services early in life.

In the Irish context, the Growing Up in Ireland  study has been conducting research on children and adolescent welfare and health and will (subject to following the group up) be able to examine these findings in the Irish context. As said in the previous post, it is a good time to have a debate about the extent to which enough resources are invested in the development of children in Ireland early in life and particularly to examine outcomes such as resilience and mental health that have not traditionally crossed into economic analysis. The extent to which public investments in mental health remediation services throughout childhood and adolescence might produce a long-lasting flow of psychological and financial benefits is a question that has not been given a great deal of evidence-based debate in the Irish context (with notable exceptions including this excellent project by colleagues at UCD).  The emergence of large scale aging cohort study data in the form of the TCD-led TILDA project is another avenue that is starting to show the linkages between mental/physical well-being and economic outcomes throughout life.

9 replies on “Mental Health and Unemployment”


I wish you well with this project, it sounds interesting. WRT mental health a book which was recently published springs to mind, Prof Ivor Browne, Evolution of a Slow Learner, Writings of… Cork University Press.

One particular observation in the book was that patients tended to improve when they were removed from the home and placed into institutional care. Which is at odds with dispersed community / home based care which is promoted. The reason being was that the environment in which the person resided was at fault…. not necessarily the person themselves.

A delightful read if you get the time.

Getting back to your project… children are like sponges… where any impression one chooses to make can leave a permanent mark.

It is not just unemployment which can affect the outlook (mental or otherwise) of a child, but many other things, just one example is divorce. Children of divorced parents are less likely to get married.

In addition if you ask why a person is working in a particular profession, you may find that there is a correlation between what the offspring is doing now and the profession of their parents. Sons and daughters frequently follow in their parents footsteps, Gardai, Army, Teachers, Civil Servants, Diplomats etc etc just being a few examples. I am sure you are aware of all this anyway.

In relation to your point about resources for children growing up…I don’t think that may be necessary. If the damage which has been inflicted by the mass consumption market orientated liberal society on the family and community structures is curtailed, reduced, diminished then the family may be able to regain it’s strength and we would witness a reduction in social dysfunction among the population.

The Dept of Finace policy of Tax Individualisation (enforced by Irish Revenue Commissioners) being just one place to start.

IMO for a child to succeed… it requires two very important things….

1) Good parents who espouse unconditional love and pass on important values (i.e. respect for others etc).

2) Good education at 2nd & 3rd level.

If a child in Ireland gets these two items… then they are well on their way.

Thanks for those points and links. Read several of the essays in the Ivor Browne book last Christmas. Well worth reading as you say.


Thanks for that post, it’s very interesting work.

An initiative to help build resilience and address mental distress has been trialled under the auspices of the National Education Psychological Service, using a schools-based programme, recommended by the WHO, called Friends for Life, to promising results. Presentation on this at the National Council for Special Education Conference last week 20 Nov, details should be on


Children of recession marked by effect of financial stress

Study of almost 20,000 children reveals extent of social and emotional problems

‘Children as young as three are affected in households where there is financial stress. Feelings of stress and alienation can often persist in homes even if the parents’ economic status improves, researchers have found.

The findings come from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study that tracks almost 20,000 children. Families of children born in 1998 were interviewed when their children were nine and 12. Similarly, families of children born in 2008 were interviewed when their children were nine months and three.

Dr Dorothy Watson, associate research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and co-author of the report, said the findings of lingering stress were surprising.

“It did not fade away in the space of two to four years. It is worse to be stuck in poverty than to get out of it, but we are finding an effect later. That would be a concern,” she said.

Financial stress can manifest itself in children being less confident and more fearful. Some have problems concentrating and others feel low.

The researchers found behavioural problems were more than twice as likely to manifest in households where there were persistent economic difficulties.

Approximately 4 per cent of children exhibit socio-emotional problems in households where there has been no economic trauma.

For those whose parents had experienced financial hardship at the first interview, but not the second, the rate rose to between 6 and 7 per cent.

Life is inter-disciplinary!

“The highest rate of 10 per cent was exhibited by children from homes where the parents experienced ongoing financial hardship.”

That’s a lot of families and a large number of children … 1916 Proclamation anyone?


Keep up the good, very relevant, work.


Thanks for link. Given they have collected such data doing follow-up waves with the kids as they transition from school and onto early adulthood would be a major contribution to understanding how childhood situations in Ireland over the last few years convert into adult outcomes.

possibly of interest:

Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland
by Nancy Scheper-hughes (Author)

An Englishman in England once told me that in his experience people in Ireland were not born and reared. They were quarried, crushed and sieved (sorted) with some being retained and the majority exported to England and other places. Based on what I had seen with my own eyes I was amazed at how right he was.

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