Job Loss and Despair

A man gone inert.

Posted Oct 13, 2020

Jim G, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Jim G, Flickr, CC 2.0

I recently lost a client, who is 64. I’ll call him Noah. Until a few months ago, he was an HR manager, but he was pushed out in favor of a demographically more desirable person, who my client insists is “underqualified.” Scared, Noah worked hard for a month to find another job. He didn’t even come close and so gave up.

Now, Noah spends much of his day staring, mainly out the window and at stock prices, and taking naps, often two-hour naps, something he had never done.

Noah says that, despite being “a lifetime striver,” he now can't motivate himself to do much of anything. He barely musters the will to eat, empty the sink, and brush his teeth, even just to get out of his chair. He rarely makes the effort to get dressed. He used to love watching movies. Now, he says he has no desire to.

He says he feels "utterly unwanted, utterly hopeless." He contemplates suicide. He’s not alone in that: Men commit suicide at 3.5 times the rate of women, and white males, who comprise 30% of the population, now account for nearly 70% of all suicides.

When counselors write about cases, they usually describe success stories. Well, I have not succeeded with this client. After three sessions he quit, saying, “I’m hopeless.”

For what it’s worth, here’s what we tried. None of these worked for him, but maybe at least one might work for you or for the inert person you care about:

I asked, “Why do you think you’ve had such a reaction to having been let go?” He said, “The situation is irreversible. Secondly, I see the U.S. getting worse, also irreversible.”

I troubleshot his job search and while it wasn't perfect, it was good, and he felt insufficiently motivated to tweak his target or tactics, because he is convinced that wouldn't make the difference. Actually, I agree, especially amid the COVID economic shutdown.

I asked if he’d consider trying an anti-depressant, at least to help through this tough time. He said no.

I asked if he should get a physical exam. He said he did a few months ago and other than a bad back, his doctor said he’s okay for his age.

I asked whether, since he stares at stock prices, he wants to be more involved in managing his money. He said no.

I asked if he wanted to talk with friends or relatives. No.

I asked if he felt like doing something creative: art, music, write? No.

I asked if he wanted to read. He said that the most he cares to do is listen to music.

I asked if he wanted to do some volunteer work, perhaps mentor someone, perhaps a child who lives on his block or through Big Brothers. He said, “I don’t think they’d like me or I wouldn’t like them.”

I asked if he thought that religion or spirituality might help. No.

I asked if he thought journaling might help. He said maybe, but the next session, when I asked if he journaled, he said he made one entry but has decided that journaling won't be of much help.

When Noah quit working with me, aware of his potential for suicide, I said that while it may be difficult to imagine now, something will likely happen to improve his situation and that at least someone would grieve the loss of him. I also said that if he felt suicidal, I’d be honored if he’d call me but because I’m not a suicide specialist, he might do better calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for a referral. I gave him the number: 800-273-8255.

So, might any of the above hold any promise for you or someone you care about?

I read this aloud on YouTube.