What the Recession Did to Our Health

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Stress-Related Symptoms Skyrocketed During the Worst of the RecessionMoney can’t buy happiness but it sure does seem like it’s easier to be healthier when there’s a little extra savings in the bank. In a study conducted by researchers at the San Diego State University School of Public Health, researchers tallied the effects of the recent recession on Americans’ health.

What they found was both predictable and startling. According to the study results, there were 200 million excess health queries Googled online during the recession. The most common words people searched? Headache, chest, heart, stomach, and pain.

This is the sad and telling impact of a recession that left so many people with no savings, no jobs, and even no homes. These sorts of tremendous stresses caused a lot of health problems for millions of people and this became evident online. The study authors were able to determine the frequency of certain search words or phrases used during the recession. They found that searches for symptoms related to stomach ulcers were 228% higher during the recession compared to non-recession times. The search for headache symptoms was similarly 193% higher, 32% higher for irregular heartbeat symptoms, 35%  higher for chest pains, and 37% higher for symptoms involving a hernia.

Other key words and phrases that increased during the recession included stomach pain, back pain, toothaches, and joint pain. The researchers speculated that stress was responsible for triggering this dramatic increase in physical symptoms. Lack of financial security took a real toll on the bodies and minds of Americans. Many Americans actually lost their jobs, but many more also worried about losing their jobs.

The researchers say that studying the online search patterns of people could help redirect resources to where they are most needed, such as reducing stress.

While many are still trying to recover from the recession, the economy is starting to improve, albeit slowly. Recently, the U.S. has implemented changes to its health care coverage. Called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or simply dubbed “Obamacare” by journalists and political adversaries, the new health care plan has attempted to increase the amount of medical coverage available to those living near or under the poverty line. Long a contentious issue, universal health care coverage still remains an out-of-reach ideal in the U.S.

Obamacare has managed to expand Medicaid eligibility to those with lower incomes by offering subsidies. Supporters of Obamacare estimate that the number of uninsured Americans will drop by 32 million. However, 23 million will still remain uninsured once all the healthcare bill’s provisions have taken effect.

In the U.S. in 2012, 62% of individual bankruptcies were the direct result of medical debt. This medical debt was accumulated in a number of different ways. For some, a chronic health problem cost them their savings. For others, medical or drug costs depleted their financial reserves. A third cause of bankruptcy was the loss of income at work due to illness. Many individuals have been forced to borrow money to pay for high medical bills.

Hopefully, Obamacare will improve the access Americans have to free health care insurance. That way, in times of economic strife or personal illness, knowing that medical help is nearby can help to significantly reduce stress levels and act as a preventative measure to stave off further illness.


Preidt, R. “Recession Triggered Wave of Health Worries, Study Finds,” MedlinePlus web site, Jan. 9, 2014; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_143959.html, last accessed Jan. 14, 2014.

Ayers J, et al. “Novel surveillance of psychological distress during the great recession.” J Affect Disord. 2012 Dec 15;142(1-3):323-30.

“ISSUE BRIEF: Medical Debt, Medical Bankruptcy and the Impact on Patients: September 2012,” National Patient Advocate Foundation; http://www.npaf.org/files/Medical%20Debt%20White%20Paper%20Final_0.pdf, last accessed Jan. 15, 2014.