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Economic Anxiety? It’s a Thing

May 20, 2022

You might call it high inflation anxiety. After more than two years of stress, depression and anxiety brought on by the COVID pandemic, the world finds itself in a state of economic uncertainty not experienced in decades. As a result, casual conversations at the grocery story, at happy hour or over lunch are all too often turning into discussions of “supply chain delays,” “the price of gas” and “retirement funds.” And for good reason. The Consumer Price Index increased 8.5 percent for the year as of March 2022, the largest 12-month increase since 1981. This, combined with rapid inflation, which has increased from 3.2 percent to 4.7 percent in the past decade, is not just impact impacting people’s pocket books - it’s impacting their mental health. “The economy and mental health are inextricably intertwined,” said Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, FRCPC, chair of psychiatry at the Institute of Living and chief of the department of psychiatry at Hartford Hospital. “Financial stressors can take a significant toll on both mental and physical well-being. Many consider socioeconomics to be a structural determinant of health; a factor that decision makers must consider when making policy decisions.” Additionally, continuing inflation can deepen economic inequality - if a family is already struggling to make ends meet, having the price of staples like food and gas rise on a weekly basis can only make their situation more tenuous, and their stress level higher. In a study published in the journal World Psychiatry in 2018, researchers reviewed 26 studies on global income inequality and found that two-thirds said that as income inequality rose, so did depression. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, which gauges how likely it is that someone experiences health impacts from stress, ranks losing a job as the eighth-most stressful life change that can happen to someone. Being unemployed can cause symptoms of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and loss of well-being. A recent Washington Post investigation showed that inflation-driven “price hikes are particularly devastating to lower-income households with already tight budgets. Nearly all their expenses go to necessities — food, energy, housing — which have seen some of the largest increases at different points over the past year.”