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Open Access Research article

Factors associated with differences in perceived health among German long-term unemployed

Heribert Limm1*, Mechthild Heinmüller2, Katrin Liel2, Karin Seeger2, Harald Gündel1, Ahmet Kimil3 and Peter Angerer4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Hospital of Ulm, Am Hochsträß 8, D-89081, Ulm, Germany

2 Department of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Ziemssenstr. 1, 80336, Munich, Germany

3 Ethno-Medical Center e.V. (EMZ), 30169, Hanover, Germany

4 Institute for Occupational Medicine and Social Medicine, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Universitätsstr. 1, 40225, Düsseldorf, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:485  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-485

Published: 27 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Unemployment is associated with reduced physical and psychological well-being. Perceived health is an important factor influencing health outcomes as well as successful returns to work. This study aims to determine the extent to which perceived health correlates with mental health, various health risk characteristics and socio-demographic characteristics in a setting-selected sample of long-term unemployed persons.

Methods

Using SF-12, 365 long-term unemployed persons were assessed for self-perceived health and various socio-demographic and health characteristics. Perceived health data of the sample was compared to the German SF-12 reference population. Bivariate analyses and multiple linear regression models were applied to identify those variables significantly associated with perceived health.

Results

The study population reported poorer perceived health compared with the general population. Analyses showed that perceived mental health was significantly worse in women, among persons with heightened depression and anxiety scores, and in participants reporting reduced levels of physical activity. Perceived physical health was significantly lower among older persons, participants with a higher BMI, and participants with heightened depression and anxiety scores. Both mental and physical health were worse among the unemployed assigned to an employment center as compared to those engaged in the secondary labor market. In total, 36% of the variance in the SF-12 mental score and 20% of the variance in the SF-12 physical score were explained by the factors included in the final multiple linear regression models.

Conclusions

Perceived health among a select group of long-term unemployed is reduced to a clinically relevant extent compared to the general population. The preliminary findings underline an association between mental health and perceived health. Negative self-perceptions of health were also associated with the labor market setting and some of the socio-demographic and health behavior variables. Further research is needed to determine risk factors leading to reduced perceived health in the unemployed. The strong association between mental health and perceived health suggests interventions targeting mental health are urgently needed to positively influence perceived health, a key determinant of individuals’ chances to successfully return to work.

Keywords:
Long-term unemployed; SF-12; HADS-Anxiety; HADS-Depression; Self-perceived health