It seems that nearly every newscast these days includes some discussion of wide-scale joblessness in the U.S. and discussion of economic crises at home and abroad. The American worker has been taken on a roller coaster ride over the course of the last few years that has left many in a tailspin when it comes to their emotional health and their jobs.
"An unusually high unemployment rate for a prolonged period of time means that twice as many people are dealing with being unemployed," said Dr. Brian Riedesel, associate professor at Argosy University, Seattle. "There’s no lifetime job stability anymore. Losing your job can mean losing your identity. The longer that period of unemployment lasts, the more prolonged negative impact it can have on your emotional health."
According to a study on the long-term health effects of being laid off by Kate Strully, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health, "For those who lost their job through no fault of their own, such as an establishment closure, the odds of reporting fair or poor health increased by 54 percent, and among respondents with no pre-existing health conditions, it increased the odds of a new health condition by 83 percent. Even when workers became re-employed, those workers had an increased risk of new stress-related health conditions."
"A layoff is a critical incident in your life," Riedesel said. "It has the potential for positive change in terms of a possible new career path but it can also be quite destructive in the loss of financial resources for individuals."
"The stages of the grief process apply to all major or unexpected changes including the loss of a job," said Dr. Marianne Greenfield, program chair at Argosy University, Atlanta and president and CEO of Parliament3, LLC, a network of organizational development and human resource consultants. "The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"Unfortunately, these emotions can sometimes progress to the point of self-doubt, negativity or an inability to move forward. Those individuals who associate their identity with their job are at higher risk for remaining in the depression stage for a longer period of time which hinders their ability to create and implement an action plan to gain new employment."
When that layoff moves from an acute crisis event to a prolonged layoff, the toll it takes can be overwhelming. "It can be devastating," Riedesel said. "The chronic stress that long-term joblessness creates can lead to higher instances of anxiety, depression and insomnia. It also makes people more vulnerable to other issues they may already have.
"Our identity is, in many ways, tied to our work," Riedesel said. "Long-term unemployment can give us a sense of a lack of control in our lives. It’s important to go from being a victim of that unemployment to taking action and taking control of our lives."
Both experts agree that it is important for the unemployed to build a strong network of emotional support and to stay active.
"Keep to your usual exercise and other routines," Riedesel encouraged. "Take care of yourself. Eat and rest well, even if you don’t feel like it. Be careful not to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, prescription or otherwise.
"It can be easy to get isolated from others in this type of instance," he said.
Depression and isolation go hand-in-hand. The more you can do to stay engaged, the better off you will be emotionally, mentally and physically.
"Volunteer," Greenfield said. "Doing something that helps others has a beneficial effect on how you feel about yourself. The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich and expand your life.
"Many times a volunteer position will lead to meeting someone who can refer you to a paying job or possibly the volunteer organization will find you invaluable and hire you. In any case, you have self-worth and can gain the positive energy from making a difference in someone’s life."
"There is a difference between having a reaction and having a breakdown," Riedesel said. "If you can’t control the emotional, physical and mental symptoms you are experiencing as a result of that unemployment, it is important to seek professional help."