Joblessness can be bad for your health

February 3, 2011

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Unemployment isn’t just bad for your bank account — it also can be harmful to your health.

Rita Winbush, director of the Free Medical Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County, said people who are recently laid off can find themselves in a “vicious cycle” that results in health problems such as depression, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Winbush added that those effects are “something you’re not aware of” while they are happening.

In addition to being the clinic’s director, Winbush also is the program director of MedAssist of Martinsville, Henry and Patrick County.

MedAssist helps connect uninsured area residents with free medications provided by private drug companies, said Winbush. Many of the medications available treat depression, high blood pressure and diabetes, she said.

All of these medical issues can begin or become aggravated when a person becomes unemployed and stressed, does not have enough money for nutritional foods and is not active enough, she said. A “sedentary lifestyle is the start” of health problems from unemployment, said Winbush.

Once someone is unexpectedly laid off, that person no longer will have the daily activity of getting ready to go to work, she said. Just that small amount of inactivity can have a negative effect on health, she added.

Winbush said people who worked in factories may have had jobs that kept them active. However, unemployment can lead to more sitting.

People also may become stressed over their financial situations, said Winbush, and that can lead to high blood pressure.

Winbush added that losing income might mean a person suddenly is relying on food stamps. Eating habits may change, especially because unhealthy food is often less expensive, she said.

At the free clinic, Winbush said she often sees patients who say, “I’ve never been sick a day in my life,” but they suffer from health problems after being laid off.

In addition to struggling with a new situation, these people must also deal with a blow to their pride, said Winbush. When a person always has been a provider and all of a sudden he cannot take care of his family, depression sets in, she said.

At the clinic, Winbush said she often sees patients who worked their whole lives, many of whom have high school degrees and even bachelor’s degrees. “Re-employment is not happening fast enough,” and they must seek outside help from agencies.

However, Winbush pointed out that due to factory closings in 2000, Martinsville has been dealing with high unemployment for a decade. Now, there are agencies in place to help those people, she said.

“We have good things in place. Now people need to realize that,” she added.

In addition to the Free Medical Clinic and MedAssist, the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness offers programs and resources, Winbush said.

The Healthy Community Initiative offers classes on healthy lifestyles, diabetes education and heart education, said Winbush. She said these classes are free, but they provide priceless information, especially for people who have recent medical issues due to unemployment or other unexpected life changes.

She said managing health issues is important, but so is prevention. Free aerobics classes can help, she said.

The aerobics classes, also offered by the initiative, are available at different times and locations, she said. Unlike other services, there is no income requirement for participation, said Winbush.

Through healthy diet and exercise, illnesses such as depression and diabetes can be managed, she said. Exercise also helps stress.

For more information, visit or call 403-5030. Schedules of the free aerobics classes are published in the Martinsville Bulletin, generally on Wednesday’s Health and Fitness page.

For more information on MedAssist call 632-2246 in Henry County or 694-8662 in Patrick County, or visit the Free Medical Clinic of Martinsville and Henry County.

The Free Medical Clinic is at 315 Hospital Drive, Suite 203 in Martinsville. For office hours or more information on the clinic, call 638-0787.


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