It is time to take various mental illnesses much more seriously, mainly because those make a significant proportion of Hungarians incapable of work at an astonishingly high rate, according to the latest labour market overview of the Hungarian Academy Sciences (MTA).
The average health status of Hungarians cannot be said to be particularly bright in the EU, because, for example, only Latvian, Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Romanian men have a lower life expectancy at birth than Hungarian men, and only Romanian and Bulgarian women have a lower life expectancy at birth than Hungarian women.
The publication of the Research Center for Economics and Regional Studies ( Közgazdaság- és Regionális Tudományi Kutatóközpont KRTK), which has been published annually since 2020 and examines the links between health and the labour market this year, also states that Hungarian men can expect good health only until the age of 60 and Hungarian women until the age of 62.
Hungarian men are acquiring at least one chronic illness before the retirement age.
In contrast, in Ireland, Sweden and Malta, for example, both women and men are in good health until 70 or more. The significant difference is mainly caused by the fact that in Hungary the health status lags in contrast to the European Union average, especially among the low-educated and the non-employed, said Anikó Bíró, a senior researcher at KRTK, to the Index. The co-author of Munkaerőpiaci Tükör adds that
“while, for example, Hungarian men with a degree are only four or five years at a disadvantage compared to Italian and Swedish men with a degree, Hungarian men without a high school diploma are twice as far behind.”
Anikó Bíró emphasises that in the light of their new research results, it would be time to pay much more attention to mental illness. All this is surprisingly supported by the terrific values of the low-educated Hungarian women aged 45-53 in particular. Symptoms of depression, for example, are three times more common than among European women with similar qualifications.
Based on domestic medicine consumption data, KRTK researchers also show that patients with physical and mental diseases work at a lower rate at home.
The difference is most pronounced when taking medication prescribed for mental illness. Within this, the difference in employment in the eastern part of the country is much larger. While we see differences in employment between regions of 1-4 percentage points among those who are considered healthy (not taking a given medicine), the differences between patients (taking a medication) are much larger, ranging from 7 to 15 percentage points compared to Budapest and the Northern Great Plain region.
However, this trend is not only actual for those with mental illness. If someone struggles with a chronic disease at home, they are less likely to work, according to the findings of the Munkaerőpiaci Tükör. Regional differences are again evident because a patient living in the eastern part of the country is even less likely to have a job.
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The mortality rates are also striking. For example, in the over 75 age-old groups, the mortality rate of those living in the most impoverished settlements is 35 per cent higher than that of those living in the wealthiest settlements for men and 18 per cent for women.
All this, again placed in a European context, means that the employment chances of the 50-59-year-olds in Hungary with the best health and mental condition are the same as the European average. In contrast, the chances of those in worse shape are further and further away.
“Thus, overall, the unemployed are typically less healthy than employed people. Of course, here we are talking primarily about first-round numbers, the analysis of trends and correlations is further to come,”
warns Anikó Bíró. But based on the research, it is already probable that the phenomenon can be explained in two ways:
- non-workers are forced into or out of the labour market, partly because of their poorer mental and physical health;
- it is also possible that work is associated with a more active, healthier lifestyle, resulting in better health indicators.