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. 2019 Nov 25;10:100521.
doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2019.100521. eCollection 2020 Apr.

Recession Hardships, Personal Control, and the Amplification of Psychological Distress: Differential Responses to Cumulative Stress Exposure During the U.S. Great Recession

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Recession Hardships, Personal Control, and the Amplification of Psychological Distress: Differential Responses to Cumulative Stress Exposure During the U.S. Great Recession

Jonathan Koltai et al. SSM Popul Health. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Recessions pose risks to mental health, yet the psychosocial mechanisms involved are less clear. One critical factor may be people's perceived control when faced with multiple recession hardships. Here we test a structural amplification hypothesis by assessing the role of perceived control as a mediator and moderator of the relation between recession shocks and psychological distress. We draw on waves 2 (2004-2006) and 3 (2013-2014) of the Midlife in the United States study (MIDUS), covering 1,739 US adults under age 75 from before and after the Great Recession. Our statistical models reveal that perceived control declines while distress rises in association with a greater accumulation of recession-related hardships. Perceived control partially mediated the recession hardships-distress association,attenuating it by about one-fifth. Further, perceived control modified the association between recession hardships and distress; individuals who reported larger declines in personal control had greater increases in distress, whereas those who experienced hardships but increased their perceived control did not exhibit significant changes in distress levels. Taken together, our findings support the structural amplification hypothesis, whereby an accumulation of recession hardships erode coping resources that would otherwise protect individuals from the mental health effects of stress exposure. Future research is needed to better understand sources of resilience at individual, community, and societal levels to help ameliorate sentiments of powerlessness and lack of perceived control during economic recessions.

Conflict of interest statement

None.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Adjusted associations between individual recession-related hardships and changes in personal control (standardized) with 95% confidence intervals, (N = 1,739). Point estimates and confidence intervals represent results from 18 separate OLS models that adjust for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and the following measured at baseline (wave 2): marital status, number of children, household income, and financial strain. Sample restricted to those under the age of 75. All models weighted by the inverse probability of attrition. Standard errors clustered at the individual level.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Adjusted associations between individual recession-related hardships and changes in psychological distress with 95% confidence intervals, (N = 1,739). Point estimates and confidence intervals represent results from 18 separate OLS models that adjust for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and the following measured at baseline (wave 2): marital status, number of children, household income, and financial strain. Sample restricted to those under the age of 75. All models weighted by the inverse probability of attrition. Standard error clustered at the individual level.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Structural amplification: the association between recession-related hardships and changes in psychological distress by changes in personal control, with 95% CI (N = 1,739). Standard errors clustered at the individual level. Model estimated using OLS and weighted by the inverse probability of attrition. Changes in distress and personal control are between waves 2 and 3 of the Midlife in the United States survey. Recession hardships are measured at wave 3.
Image 1

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