In a previous post we surveyed some studies which claimed that the effects of recessions on health are positive. The logic behind these results is that people are induced to change their lifestyle during a recession, and this goes often in favour of healthier choices (walking or biking instead of driving their cars).
These results have been re-assessed in a comprehensive study on 26 European countries from 1970 to 2006 and are reported today on the FT and published online on the Lancet Medical Journal (although the version is available only to subscribers).
As the figure to the left reports, a 3% rise in unemployment leads to 28% rise in deaths from alcohol abuse, 6% from homicide and 4% from suicide; it does instead lead to a reduction in transport accidents by 4%. Overall, there is no effect of unemployment on all causes mortality rates.
An interesting picture that emerges from the study is, that the impact of unemployment on death rates vary substantially across countries. For example, suicides rates are substantially mitigated by government-sponsored programmes to keep people employed: if the amount spent on active-labour market participation exceeds 190$ per capita, suicides rates do not rise.
From my understanding, the use of death rates does not allow a full comparison with previous studies, which use more micro data looking at specific habits (like smoking) or health measure (like weight), but it's still informative with regards to the striking policy implications.