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THL: Psychological stress three times more common among unemployed in Finland

Serious psychological stress is three times more common among people outside of the workforce than among those with jobs, says the public health watchdog THL.

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Sometimes jobless people face situations where they don’t have enough cash to cover everyday expenses, or even buy food. Long-term illnesses also pose challenges for some members of this group, according to the Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

It has already previously been established that living outside of the workforce can be taxing. Now a more in-depth analysis by the THL has found that the psychological stress of existing outside of the workforce is significantly more widespread that in the general population.

The data show that some 10 percent of the general population experience serious psychological stress, while among the unemployed that number rises to 34.5 percent.

Many factors combine to create psychological strain. THL’s questionnaire-based study looks at respondents’ moods, levels of anxiety and everyday concerns.

"Previous qualitative research has pointed to the fact that low-income earners find it difficult to plan ahead," said THL research director Anna Maria Isola.

Many respondents among long-term unemployed

According to the THL researcher, people outside of the workforce are a varied group. Respondents included people who were temporarily laid off, unemployed jobseekers, persons participating in rehabilitation or work placement programmes, pensioners and even students.

More than half of respondents said that they had been outside of the workforce for more than two years and nearly three-quarters had not worked for more than a year.

Being unemployed takes its toll, however the unemployed face a different kind of psychological stress from people caught up in the daily grind of work

“Of course working life is also stressful. In addition to burnout, things like workplace harassment or being shut out of the workplace community can create stress,” said THL researcher Lars Leeman.

According to Leeman it is also important to remember that although jobless people experience a different kind of stress, that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming.

“Other studies have also shown that losing a job is itself very upsetting,” he added.

Active but lonely

The research also yielded positive results. It showed for example, that the unemployed were just as active in NGOs and other activities as others in Finland. However in spite of this, many respondents felt that they lacked close friendships.

“It is not in itself surprising that worries about income, health problems and the like pile up among this group. However the prevalence of the sense of loneliness is striking,” noted Isola.

Nearly a quarter of respondents described themselves as lonely – three times more than the general population.

The research was based on surveys involving more than 800 respondents. THL’s Leeman said that it makes sense to focus research on certain groups in society.

“Studies that cover the entire population are comprehensive, but it can be difficult to single out information about different groups on that basis,” he commented.

He added that many researchers sometimes find it difficult to include people living precariously in some studies and they are therefore under-represented among respondents. The resulting concern is that they are then overlooked.

The THL study was conducted before the government’s so-called activation model for getting the unemployed into the labour market was launched. It therefore does not reflect recent developments in the situation of people who are not part of the labour force.

The study was part of a broader THL project investigating participation and wellbeing. The goal is to develop tools that can help officials measure the impact of social services.

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