Mental Health and Job Loss

Coping with unemployment, depression, isolation, and suicide.

Posted May 13, 2020

The COVD-19 pandemic has gravely impacted our mental health in more ways than one. A majority of individuals are anxious about the unknown, and millions of Americans are experiencing a financial crisis after losing their jobs. We are not only mandated to stay home, but we are mandated to remain home while trying to cope with financial adversity.

Unemployment negatively affects our mental and emotional health. Beyond the negative impact of an economic disaster, COVID-19 presents additional challenges such as fear of the virus itself, collective grief, prolonged physical distancing, and associated social isolation that all compound the impact on our collective psyche.

A job is not just a job for many people. Many individuals take pride in how they make a living, and their career becomes a part of who they are; it becomes their identity. So when this is stripped away, an individual’s identity is also robbed. 

The true meaning of work

Our jobs not only provide a sense of security but also offer connection to peers, meaning, and purpose, sense of accomplishment, and self-efficacy. When our jobs are stripped away, so are many of these traits. 

Nearly 21 million Americans have lost their jobs over the past eight weeks because of COVID-19. The unemployment rate is above 15 percent, which is well above the unemployment rate during the Great Depression

Humans are not robots. We are individuals with needs, feelings, and emotions, and therefore the loss of a job is not just the elimination of a paycheck but also the loss of a routine, security, and connection to others (and not to mention, access to health care). 

The link between unemployment and suicide

Studies have shown that unemployment is highly linked to suicide, and unemployment during this COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Our country and the world are at an increased risk for suicides, no matter how you see it. Unfortunately, many Americans who are now unemployed are now uninsured and, as a result, are unable to afford mental health treatment. It is a lose-lose situation. 

In 2008, the Great Recession ushered in a 13 percent increase in suicides attributable to unemployment, with over 46,000 lives lost due to unemployment and income inequality in that year alone.

Everyone is at risk

This economy crash affects everyone, regardless of his or her job or income. Layoffs have occurred across the board from blue-collar workers and health care professionals to white-collar executives. Budget cuts are being made in nearly every industry because of the doomed economy. Many small businesses have been forced to shut their doors, leaving employees and business owners struggling to pay the bills. Regardless of employment status, bills need to be paid, and mouths need to be fed. 

The economic stimulus and unemployment benefits have been a godsend for many, but how long will the government be willing to help those 21 million individuals who are unemployed and cannot find work? 

This pandemic has created a mental health and financial crisis. Many highly educated and highly skilled individuals are unable to find jobs because the economy is closed. Very few sectors are hiring, so the only option is to keep searching and wait this out…but for how long?

Isolation and depression

Mental health experts have argued as far back as the Great Depression that unemployment damages mental health and undermines the social fabric of society. Involuntary joblessness can elicit feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. 

“Who are we if we cannot take care of our families and ourselves?” 

“Who are we if we cannot put food on the table?”

Individuals who suffer unintended job loss are less likely to socialize with their friends and family because they feel ashamed or embarrassed, leading to isolation, which leads to depression, and more isolation. It is hard for many to socialize with friends who are gainfully employed when one is struggling to find any job leads, especially during this pandemic. 

The economic impact of depression

The World Health Organization has noted that depression and anxiety have an estimated cost to the global economy of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. A likely surge of people experiencing acute behavioral health problems, both those with new symptoms and those with existing conditions, has the potential to strain the health care system further and add cost to an already unprecedented economic downturn.

Staying strong during this time

We must remember that this is not our fault. We cannot blame ourselves for this financial crisis that has occurred because of COVID-19. We cannot blame ourselves for being laid off. We also must safeguard our mental health in every way possible. Therapy and social connections are imperative for our mental health, but when we are out of work and are mandated to socially isolate, what other options do we have?

Develop a daily routine. Unemployment can often lead to boredom, feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and depression. We need to develop new daily habits so that we stay active and motivated. This includes the following:

  • Adopting a regular sleep/wake cycle
  • Adopting a daily exercise routine
  • Taking time each day to develop a new skill or work on a new project
  • Nourishing our bodies with plenty of whole foods and water
  • Spending at least 30 minutes a day outside
  • Spending quality time with loved ones (even if that means virtual happy hours and meetings or practicing social distancing) 
  • Spending time to meditate, read, or practicing yoga
  • Spending time to focus on activities that bring you joy

Do not obsess over the job search. Our first instinct after a job loss is to pour every ounce of our time and energy into searching for a new job. Although it is necessary to search for a job, spending countless hours obsessing over job-hunting can take a toll on our mental and emotional health. Instead, we should set a certain amount of time each day or every few days to search for new job opportunities, update our resumes, create cover letters, and network with any potential connections.  

Get your finances in order. It is necessary to take a look at your current financial status and assess any unnecessary spending. It is important to save money during this time, even if your unemployment covers your monthly bills. Subscription boxes, alcohol, coffee to go, fast food, take-out, online shopping, cable, and gym memberships can all add up to an astronomical monthly output and can easily be reduced or eliminated. Now is your time to figure out how to live a simpler life. Also, apply for unemployment.

Eliminate negative social interactions. This includes social media. If you have people in your life who are causing you stress during this time, it may be time to walk away from the relationship. You must surround yourself with those who support you and want to see you thrive. If you find social media to be triggering during this time, then take a break, delete the apps from your phone, or limit your social media daily activity.