Race, unemployment rate, and chronic mental illness: A 15-year trend analysis

Celia C. Lo, Tyrone C. Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Purpose: Before abating, the recession of the first decade of this century doubled the US unemployment rate. High unemployment is conceptualized as a stressor having serious effects on individuals' mental health. Data from surveys administered repeatedly over 15 years (1997-2011) described changes over time in the prevalence of chronic mental illness among US adults. The data allowed us to pinpoint changes characterizing the White majority - but not Black, Hispanic, or Asian minorities - and to ask whether such changes were attributable to economic conditions (measured via national unemployment rates). Methods: We combined 1.5 decades' worth of National Health Interview Survey data in one secondary analysis. We took social structural and demographic factors into account and let adjusted probability of chronic mental illness indicate prevalence of chronic mental illness Results: We observed, as a general trend, that chronic mental illness probability increased as the unemployment rate rose. A greater increase in probability was observed for Blacks than Whites, notably during 2007-2011, the heart of the recession Conclusions: Our results confirmed that structural risk posed by the recent recession and by vulnerability to the recession's effects was differentially linked to Blacks. This led to the group's high probability of chronic mental illness, observed even when individual-level social structural and demographic factors were controlled. Future research should specify the particular kinds of vulnerability that created the additional disadvantage experienced by Black respondents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1119-1128
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Chronic mental illness
  • Racial/ethnic minorities
  • Trend study
  • Unemployment rate


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