The Case for Feeling Better During Recessions

There has been a great deal of talk about how the economic crisis and recession have had a negative impact on the happiness of people across the United States and in many places throughout the world, and rising rates of the prescription of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications would seem to support such stories. As a matter of course, it is expected that difficult financial times will lead to higher levels of stress and create difficult situations that lead to feelings of sadness, worry, and anger, and there are doubtless many people who are struggling to recover not only financially, but mentally and emotionally, from the recession. Yet it may not be wise to characterize the health and happiness of the population as unilaterally “bad” during sour economic times. A study performed at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has uncovered the fact that Americans were actually prone to higher rates of longevity and greater overall health during past recessions, an unexpected and seemingly counter-intuitive finding that might also shed light on the status of mental health worldwide.

The study looked at death rates and causes of death across a broad spectrum of citizens during the period of 1920 to 1940, years which experienced significant financial difficulty. The researchers found that despite the commonly-held belief that health suffers during economic downfall, these medical factors were significantly more optimistic than in times of greater financial prosperity. Possible explanations that have been offered in the wake of the study include the idea that during times of growth and expansion, people are pressured to work harder and longer, and may feel over-exerted or resort to substance abuse or other destructive behaviors, all of which can have negative consequences on overall health. Changing attitudes about the effects of the recession may help further improve how people feel as they work their way towards brighter days.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Smith


    October 9th, 2009 at 10:26 AM

    Pretty interesting result, though it conflicts with common thinking of a lot of people… maybe people start looking after their helth because they have no other work! ;)

  • Herth


    October 9th, 2009 at 10:33 AM

    Hmm…wonder why people in olden days didn’t experience things like stress and tension…? it is because they were relatively laid back and relaxed and I guess the same conditions come back in times of a recession and hence the conflicting reports of mental health actually being better in times of recession.

  • Lucy


    October 9th, 2009 at 12:37 PM

    Times like these are the ones that make you really step back and think about how much we really do have. It may not be material goods, but hopefully it is the things in life that matter the most, like family and friends. Also this recession has made me more thankful for the little things in life and has given me greater clarity into the fact that there are just some things in life that I do not have control over. Sometimes it is best to just sit back and find a way to enjoy the ride.

  • John


    October 11th, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    Maybe the recession helps people get their true priorities in order. And like Lucy said, there are some things we can’t control anyway, might as well make the most of it.

  • Fiorghra


    October 16th, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    I suspect this is especially true of those who have not lost their jobs. They are now thankful to still be working and happy to just be able to pay their bills. They’re not feeling so bad that they can’t afford the big exotic vacations or other frivolous expenses that seemed so important before the recession. However, I suspect that those who have lost their jobs aren’t feeling quite so up.

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