Kassens wins fellowship for research on depression and the job market

SALEM, Va.-Finding a link between depression and a person's ability to keep a job could lead to policy changes for employers throughout the nation, so says Roanoke College economics professor, Dr. Alice Kassens.

Kassens recently received the Maurice L. Mednick Memorial Fellowship to help fund her ongoing research this summer and next spring on the effect of clinical depression in the labor market. The fellowship, created in 1967, encourages professional development, through research, for college teachers.

Kassens began the project in 2009, with co-author Dr. William Rodgers, a public policy professor and economist at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workplace Development at Rutgers University. Rodgers, a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, was Kassens' professor while she was an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.

The pair presented their first paper on the subject at some national conferences, with early findings that reveal that women and minorities who are clinically depressed have a higher unemployment rate, compared with men and non-minorities. They are studying the income and employment status of people who have jobs or who are unemployed.

Rodgers and Kassens plan to publish two additional research papers. They want their findings to raise government awareness and lead to policy change. The results also could force employers to consider new insurance policies and treatments, said Kassens, who specializes in health and labor economics.

"We're trying to figure out, 'Does depression cause you to be unemployed?'" she said. "Or is it that people become depressed while they are out of a job?"

Kassens will spend part of July and August researching data for the project at the National Center for Health Statistics Research in New York City and at Rutgers. Kassens will return to New York and Rutgers periodically during next year's spring semester, her planned sabbatical period.

Business trustees with the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, as well as college presidents, oversee the selection of research proposals for the Mednick Memorial Fund. Schools that are members of the VFIC, including Roanoke College, nominate one faculty member a year for the fellowship.

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as one of the "Best 376 Colleges" in its 2012 guidebook, which includes the top nine percent of colleges, and U.S. News & World Report ranks Roanoke the number seven "Up-and-coming National Liberal Arts College."

For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.