A growing body of evidence documents how economic crises impact aspects of health across countries and over time. We performed a systematic narrative review of the health effects of the latest economic crisis based on studies of high-income countries. Papers published between January 2009 and July 2015 were selected based on review of titles and abstracts, followed by a full text review conducted by two independent reviewers. Ultimately, 122 studies were selected and their findings summarized. The review finds that the 2008 financial crisis had negative effects on mental health, including suicide, and to a varying extent on some non-communicable and communicable diseases and access to care. Although unhealthy behaviors such as hazardous drinking and tobacco use appeared to decline during the crisis, there have been increases in some groups, typically those already at greatest risk. The health impact was greatest in countries that suffered the largest economic impact of the crisis or prolonged austerity. The Great Recessions in high-income countries have had mixed impacts on health. They tend to be worse when economic impacts are more severe, prolonged austerity measures are implemented, and there are pre-existing problems of substance use among vulnerable groups.
Keywords: OECD; economic crisis; review.
© The Author(s) 2016.