Can Being Unemployed Take Years Off Your Life?

Can Being Unemployed Take Years Off Your Life?

Health experts are suggesting that stress from the recession may be widening the Black-white life-expectancy gap.

Published June 2, 2011

For years, health advocates and researchers have pointed out that there is a troubling life expectancy gap between African-Americans and white people. And over the years, researchers have been telling us that the gap was slowly getting smaller (although still noticeable), but showing some signs of progress.


And the news that we don't live as long as our white counterparts shouldn't be all that surprising given our lack of access to quality health care, the growing number of uninsured, the lack of access to quality foods and good ol' socioeconomics.


We are not as healthy as we need to be in order to live full, long and prosperous lives.  


But according to an eye-opening article on The Huffington Post, not only has that gap begun to widen further, but that something unexpected may be shaving years off our lives: The recession and the high unemployment rates among the African-American community. Huff Po staff reporter Janell Ross wrote:


"Then came 2009. For all Americans, the average life expectancy again nudged up for the year, reaching 78 years and two months according to preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control. But Black Americans saw no improvement in life expectancy, remaining at 74 years and three months.


"Some experts construe this unanticipated widening of the Black-white life expectancy gap as a product of the Great Recession. The recession extracted brutal economic costs from nearly every slice of American society, particularly from African-Americans. Nearly two years after the recession’s official end, Black unemployment remains at 16.1 percent compared to the 8 percent of white Americans unable to find work. And it’s the stress that can come with a job loss that some experts say may explain the new size of the life expectancy gap."


I've always known that stress can kill you, but this news is really bothersome, especially since this is something that we can't control. Some experts told Ross that we should be "alarmed" about this development, and others (federal researchers) have tried to calm fears by saying that this could possibly be a one year thing and that we have to wait until next year to really know for sure if the recession is affecting our life expectancy.


Whether the numbers remain the same or go down next year, chronic and constant stress can pose serious health issues. Worrying about how you are going to pay your bills, buy the basic necessities for your family and put food on the table can take a toll. Not to mention, just being Black in America and all that the stressor that comes isn't a picnic either.


When your body/brain perceives a threat (stress), it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the "fight-or-flight" response. Once the threat is gone, your body should go back to its regular relaxed state. But if you are constantly stressed, your body's alarm system never shuts off and that can help increase your risk of diseases that we are already prone to such as hypertension, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other potentially fatal health problems.


Only time will tell if the recession may be taking years away from our lives. In the meantime, take care yourself and learn how to relax—even when life ain't what it should be.  


Read here about tips to receive mental health care that is low-cost and learn about the benefits of yoga here.

(Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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