Unemployed people are four times more likely to experience severe mental-health issues, including depression, than people with jobs, according to a survey released yesterday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America.

In fact, 13 percent of the unemployed say they have seriously considered harming themselves, the survey showed.

"Compounding the problem, when you lose your job, you lose your health insurance, and then you lose your ability to pay for treatment," said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group in Virgina.

The survey comes at a time when the nation is caught up in a national debate about the future of health care in the United States.

Fitzpatrick said he was heartened that mental-health coverage was part of the debate. Last year, Congress passed legislation that gave mental-health care parity with care for physical conditions.

"That was a game-changer," he said.

According to the survey, severe mental illness is also twice as likely to affect people who have experienced a forced job change, such as cuts in pay or hours.

The findings come as no surprise to Cheryl Spaulding, leader of Joseph's People, a support group for the unemployed at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown.

In her 14 years as a leader, several among the thousands of people who have joined the group have killed themselves.

"They were unemployed people who lost their hope," she said. "Depression and the loss of hope are the biggest battles unemployed people fight."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.