The importance of financial recession for mental health among students: short- and long-term analyses from an ecosocial perspective

  • Anne Hammarström
    Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm; The Stress Research Institute, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Pekka Virtanen
    Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, Tampere, Sweden.


Background and aim: Referring to the ecosocial theory and utilising the ‘natural experiment’ setting provided by the global recession at the beginning of 1990s, the aim of our study was to analyse the short- and long-term associations between trade and mental health in young students followed until mid-adulthood.
Method: The study was based on two prospective cohort studies, the older and the younger Northern Swedish Cohort which both consisted of all pupils in a middle-sized industrial town in Northern Sweden. At age 21, the younger cohort entered the labour market during the deep recession of the early 1990s, while the older cohort entered the labour market during the boom of the 1980s. Both cohorts were followed up with a high response rate in mid adulthood. For this study, all students were selected at age 21.
Results: At age 21, those who studied during recession had more depressive and functional somatic symptoms than those who studied during boom. The cohort differences did not remain over age: by the follow-up in early middle age the differences between the cohorts were non-significant, most notably due to decreased depressive symptoms in the younger cohort and increase of functional somatic symptoms in the older cohort.
Conclusions: The short-term mental health consequences of the business cycle seem to be more extensive than limited only to those who are unemployed, even though the possible long-term consequences seem to be more complex. Thus, the macrolevel had a great short-term impact on the individual level in relation to the microlevel setting of university/school. The chronosystem was also of major importance. Future research would benefit from taking the context into account.