Psychological Impact Of Protracted Unemployment

As the economic recession drags on a heavy toll is being taken on the psychological well being of those who lost their jobs and cannot find a new one. Arthur H. Goldsmith, PhD, Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University, warns of the devastating, and possibly permanent, psychological effects of joblessness.

According to Goldsmith, during the first stage of unemployment people manage to retain optimism that they will find another job. In this case, those who lost their jobs at the start of the economic down turn, were aware that they were not alone among those who were no longer working. They were able to blame their fate on the fact that many companies went out of business or down sized. In other words, external factors were responsible for their unemployment.

However, as the recession deepens, people become increasing hopeless about their future. A sense of hopelessness and helplessness breeds depression, anxiety, insomnia, lowered self esteem, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual problems and domestic violence.

Part of the reason for this drastic damage to mental health is that a shift takes place in thinking whereby the unemployed lose their sense of optimism about find a new job and start to blame themselves for their inability to find or keep a job.

Very often, the type of job that is found is much lower in salary and below the skill set and experience that the individual is capable of. If the new job is then lost because that company goes out of business the worker becomes even more convinced that they should have done something to prevent the company from closing and the results are their fault. While this is not rational it does exist.

Many people were able to accumulate a lot of money in their 401K's and savings account while they were employed. Sadly, these funds become depleted as the economic crisis continues. Money that had been slated for retirement, college tuition for children and travel disappears. This adds to the sense of gloom, doom and emotional depression.

It should come as no surprise that men and women go are going through this turmoil if they lost their careers. Work helps define who we are. It provides a sense of importance and accomplishment. It also organizes our days, months and years and helps us reach our dreams and hopes for the future. The inability to find a new job destroys hope and causes lasting damage.

People in this situation, and that includes more and more of us, need two things in order to avoid disaster: 1. A new job. 2. Psychotherapy or counseling.

The conundrum is that psychotherapy can be too expensive when money is not coming in and it does not lead directly to a job. However, there are now internet counseling services and self help groups available and either no cost or greatly discounted fees. Here, at Mentalhelp.net, we have a free online support community for those seeking help.

In addition, there are online counseling services that help develop skills that could be helpful in this new economic environment.

What is most important is that its important to overcome feelings of helplessness and uselessness that are bred by the recession. Finding psychotherapy, career counseling and learning new strategies to find work can help people feel more empowered and less hopeless. Sometimes its a matter of starting a new business based on hobbies and interests. The idea is to not give up hope. Its always important to stress the helpfulness of daily exercise, meditation and yoga to help fight depression and anxiety.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Comments
  • Sue K.

    My husband, a PhD level pharmaceutical research scientist has been laid off 5 times in 2 years. The first time was the most devastating. After 15 years at a company he loved, living in our dream home - we lost everything as jobs were moved overseas.

    Indeed he was depressed and hopeless, but then a jog came up in NJ (Indeed we we're depressed, but it was a job). The company folded at 11 months. Fortunately he found a new position in MA. Happy & secure again the company boasted of a drug in final trials that would be a blockbuster. Instead it failed and became a job buster after 5 months. After that came two contract jobs. In spite of promises that they would go long term, one ended after three months, the other after 1 month, each cutting back on their budgets by laying off temporary staff.

    My husband doesn't drink, use drugs or go for therapy. We live each day for the present. He is back in school studying Regulatory Affairs, one job that doesn't get outsourced. He does worry that his age will get in his way. When hiring managers are young enough to be your son, you can't claim age discrimination doesn't take place. He networks, volunteers for conferences, makes himself known on professional sites. For extra cash he does handyman work (another passion of his) for people at various companies that do the hiring and have extensive contacts.

    We make the most out of each day whether he's temping or not - knowing that eventually a job will come his way and free time will become more precious. We don't want to look back and think, "Gee we had all this time to ourselves and we did nothing with it." Even if he ends up jumping from one contract to another and we never regain what we once had, we will have least had fun in the meantime. Is it all champagne & roses? No. At times we struggle to pay bills, keep the positive attitude (we try to swap off on that one so there's always someone to support the other). I'm disabled. Bummer!

    In spite of all, we feel lucky. We realize that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions suffering far worst than us. We try to help others as best as we can. We may not be part of the clinical sample you are basing your theory on, but every coin has another side.

    Our best wishes to all our fellow citizens affected by unemployment. Live for the day.

  • Cathy

    This is the worst time that I have ever seen. I talk with neighbors and city officials and everyone is really down: lost money in the stock market and can't retire, cost of living is skyrocketing although the government doesn't realize it - that index includes those things that don't count, we had a large company with over 200 employees close (that's large for us) and a new company is supposed to come in but the date keeps moving up, some of the businesses are using this time to dump less productive workers, older workers, etc. and go through new employees sorting and dumping at a whim. People are becoming down right criminal over job loss and new jobs not coming forth. So many projects in town and across the state are on a permanent hold. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and you don't want to be that person! I am lucky that I had to leave my job years ago to care for my son with disabilities - did not seem lucky at the time and lowered our standard of living - but I know how long it takes to adjust to not working outside the home, to take a job when you need one that pays less and, well, the people you work with are a whole different bunch. My husband was laid off 1 1/2 days before Christmas and just found another job, better working conditions (nothing pays well here) and we can only credit that to a couple of really trusted references - the company personally knew the guys when checking out my husband. He is very lucky because the other company said it was a permanent lay-off and told them they could reapply and start again at the beginning salary and vacation/benefits etc. and maybe they would hire them back. Many had several years of employment. I see how hard it is for so many in the forums as they don't understand why someone else got a job and they didn't - more often than not it is "connections" that make the difference. Just prior to his getting the job, we read an article on the internet that said that many companies had a policy not to interview someone that was unemployed - that was less than good news so now you need a job to get a job - that's worse than needing experience to get a job. I never saw the job as any part of who I was - it was a way to get money which I know is rare but my job could never have been my "life", yuck!

  • Brett

    Yes, I perfectly fall into the above scenario. I've always had a fulltime job and have been unemployed for nearly four years. I've been able to get contracted positions but it's not fulltime.

    I have plenty of friends who work in the medical and mental health fields and at various social functions, I've talked about the above problems and how to solve them. At one dinner's end, I wasn't the most popular guest because I started to ask and speak the truth: "No one can help people except those specific individuals." There's about 4-5 minutes of temporary comfort when reading Dr. Schwartz's article on unemployment depression and other problem which result from not working. To be honest here, no pysychologist, sociologist, or professor is going to solve a person's financial crisis or save a marriage. It's the old cliche, people are very quick to right about their observations from the outside looking in.

    Of course, I get depressed, see no end in-sight, and get no support from my wife, but I really think I'm starting to get over the hump and beginning to see some sunshine. Why? Unless you've gone through something as awful as I've been talking about, you can't relate to the mental anquishes and challenges. I subscribe to over 25 job-related search engines and 5 executive level search engines all of which have people writing articles about finding jobs and how to make yourself look better to employers. I've actually written back to several of these authors simply asking them have they ever been unemployed for a length of time. Answer: 90% said, NO. They've never been unemployed.

    In conclusion, I appreciate reading articles like Dr. Schwartz but have a hard time dealing with "professionals" who think they know how to solve the problems surrounding the various conditions caused by being laid-off or unemployed. In the past 4 years, career coaching agencies and/or e-level recruiting companies have been taking advantage of the unemployed on various front, which include taking money from desparate people who are looking for jobs!! Yes, it's all legal. However, If you agree with my posting I sincerely hope/wish that you look toward others, like myself, who can share good-bad experiences and learn from our mistakes and turn things around for the better. Most of all, it's free!

  • Genichka

    Heck, I got fired over a medical condition that my boss' wife (she's also a boss herself) stated that it was an invalid condition and she had never had anyone (at our workplace) go home because of it. Well she wasn't the one that needed to go to an emergency room. Anyways you could imagine how shitty I had felt after getting fired over that and before that, they were ignoring me and everything I did was wrong for some odd reason. I won my unemployment appeal they had lied, and even included that I was "loopy" and "spacey." That upsetted me.

    Now I don't know what to tell future employers in regards to contacting these lying bastards because what if they lie to my future employers then what? They're going to ruin my chances for getting another job. This makes me worry and stress out horribly and gives me anxiety.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Genichka,

    Your boss may have violated one or more of the laws that protect workers. In this case, there could be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I am not a lawyer and that is why it would probably be a good idea fir you to consult an attorney and learn if your rights were violated. If so, you could be due reinstatement and compensation. On the other hand, you may not be entitled to anything. Check it out is my advice.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • Mark

    Thank you Sue, your comment really cheered me up. good luck

    x

  • alicat

    A year plus into the mid-life job search, after working since 16, and all I can say is: this blows! I've been through a lot in my life, including infertility, foot issues and dealing with a chronic illness, but the worthlessness and hopeless feelings are a bitch. I need to get out of my head but I've nowhere else to go. Ever forward, I guess. Thank heavens for the faboulous f's- family, faith, friends, food, fitness, football and fornicating! Thanks for the forum to express a few thoughts. Good Luck, everyone!