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Work and Mental Health

Updates, musings, and questions.

As the Great Recession drags on, the problems of unemployment and underemployment continue unabated. As a practicing psychologist who works with clients struggling with work issues, I often wonder what would most help people as they manage work-related challenges. As a researcher and writer, I also wonder what sort of new information people need as they deal with this ongoing slog through a tepid economy.

Some of my impressions, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. Unemployment is as daunting as ever: While the unemployment rate is diminshing, albeit very slowly, people are still struggling to find work. In addition, the nature of the jobs that is available is often disappointng, and sometimes degrading. Psychological research is clear in indicating that unemployment beyond 6 months is causally related to mental health problems.

2. Counseling and therapy are helpful: Again, research indicates that psychological treatment, ideally combining mental health and vocational counseling interventions, is very helpful. However, access to treatment that integrates the full scope of problems and concerns that people have is sporadic as some psychologists focus more on mental health issues and some counselors focus more on work-related issues. Research here again is clear: The best treatment for the depression and anxiety of the long-term unemployed is finding a job!

3. Relationships are essential: For people who are unemployed and underemployed, social support is more important than ever. As in other crisis situations, the importance of relationships is as crtiical as the air that we breathe.

4. Working is as stressful as ever: For those who are working, there is a palpable sense of stress: the demands are often greater, the stress is more intense, and the fears of job loss are pervasive. For those who are working in an office or factory where there have been lots of layoffs, there also may be some survivor guilt.

So, here are my questions; what do you want psychologists to know about work and mental health? Are there any books that have been helpful to you? Let's all share some of our impressions and ideas so that my colleagues and I can be maximally helpful as clinicians, career counselors, researchers, and authors.