Differential Links Between Leisure Activities and Depressive Symptoms in Unemployed Individuals

J Clin Psychol. 2016 Jan;72(1):70-8. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22231. Epub 2015 Oct 7.


Objective: Unemployment has consistently been linked to an elevated risk for depression. Exercise, specifically leisure-based physical activities, has received increasing attention as alternative treatment options. However, because leisure activities are pursued during discretionary time, it is unclear if the mental health benefits of physical and leisure activities apply during times of unemployment as well.

Method: Depressive symptoms and participation in recreational activities were assessed in 142 employed and 158 unemployed participants (age = 34 ± 11 years; male = 150).

Results: Independent of employment status, all recreational activities were inversely associated with depressive symptoms. However, social (employed: ηp (2) = .21; unemployed: ηp (2) = .11) and self-focused (employed: ηp (2) = .19; unemployed: ηp (2) = .10) recreational activities were more strongly related to depressive symptoms than exercise (employed: ηp (2) = .12; unemployed: ηp (2) > .05).

Conclusion: These findings highlight the strong mental health associations of recreational activities and suggest that, particularly for unemployed individuals, promoting recreational activities, rather than exercise, may leverage the stronger negative relationship with risk of depression.

Keywords: depressive symptoms; exercise; leisure activities; recreational activities; unemployment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recreation / psychology
  • Unemployment / psychology*