Career planning involves insight and foresight—including, to some extent, an ability to predict the future. Many professional risks are predictable, such as market trends and consumer purchasing patterns. The risk of a pandemic is not. As a result, many economic consequences of COVID-19 were unforeseen, resulting in a significant financial hit for a substantial segment of the workforce.
True, many employees are able to telework. But not everyone is so lucky. Those who have been involuntarily furloughed or laid off are experiencing negative consequences, both financially and emotionally. Making matters worse from a mental health perspective is the fact that they did not see it coming.
The Emotional Consequences of Sudden Insolvency
Whether you are a new employee or a seasoned veteran, job security is an important part of professional life. When the rug is pulled out from under you financially, the fall can be fast and hard. Some common emotions shared by the newly unemployed and their families, not surprisingly, include anxiety and depression.
Megan R. Ford et al. (2019), recognizing the practical observation from a therapy perspective of the crossover between financial concerns and mental health issues, found evidence indicating a significant relationship between financial distress and depression. [i] Specifically, the researchers found that in a clinical sample, financial distress predicted depression, and depression predicted financial distress.
Richard H. Price et al., in a study entitled “Links in the Chain of Adversity Following Job Loss,” [ii] utilized models of the stress process to investigate the association between job loss and depression, and the subsequent association between depression and decreased personal functioning, and poor health.
Studying 756 people who lost their jobs, they found two significant mediating mechanisms in what they describe as a “chain of adversity” from losing a job to poor health and functioning. These were decreased personal control and financial strain.
Regarding the psychological impacts of these factors, they found financial strain to be the mediating factor between the loss of a job and depression and personal control, and decreased personal control mediates the negative effect of depression and financial strain on poor functioning, and reportedly poor health. Specifically, the authors suggest that loss of personal control is “a pathway through which economic adversity is transformed into chronic problems of poor health and impaired role and emotional functioning.”
One way to sustain both hope and health following sudden, involuntary employment, is quick intervention.
The Importance of Early Intervention: The Value of Personal and Professional Help
Many employees are particularly vulnerable emotionally immediately following an unexpected job loss. Seeking help for feelings of grief and depression during this initial period of uncertainty and financial distress may prevent more significant symptoms of depression and anxiety in the future. On the flip side, offering encouragement, assistance, and support to friends and family who have recently become unemployed can also prompt resilience and recovery.
Research has established that involuntary job loss can trigger symptoms of complicated grief, anxiety, and depression. [iii] Janske H.W. Eersel et al. (2020), studying 128 Dutch workers who lost their jobs within a 1-year period, found that complicated grief at a baseline time period predicted depression and anxiety six months later, but not vice-versa. These results highlight the need for early intervention, targeting symptoms of complicated grief related to sudden unemployment in order to prevent later experiences of anxiety or depression.
Emphasizing early intervention is particularly important health-wise because symptoms of depression often take a toll mentally as well as physically. A case of the blues might prompt self-medication through unhealthy habits in an effort to boost mood. This might be especially true when a sudden job loss results in too much free time, and too little motivation to use it productively.
True, some benched employees spring into action, polishing their resume and looking for new job opportunities. Others are unable to muster that motivation.
Support Through Encouragement
Whether fired or furloughed, employees who have lost jobs due to COVID-19 argue they are not in the mood to focus on self-improvement. First, they need to focus on improving their mood. As loved ones, friends, and family, we can offer support, understanding, and encouragement for those who need to find new employment. These priceless emotional gifts in a challenging time of need may help unemployed individuals embark upon the road to recovery, both emotionally and financially.
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[i] Ford, Megan R., Émilie M. Ellis, Joseph Goetz, Kristy L. Archuleta, Jerry E. Gale, Barbara Grossman, Elizabeth Grant, and Jennifer Gonyea. 2019. “Depression and Financial Distress in a Clinical Population: The Value of Interdisciplinary Services and Training.” Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, November. doi:10.1007/s10591-019-09514-9.
[ii] Price, Richard H., Jin Nam Choi, and Amiram D. Vinokur. 2002. “Links in the Chain of Adversity Following Job Loss: How Financial Strain and Loss of Personal Control Lead to Depression, Impaired Functioning, and Poor Health.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 7 (4): 302–12. doi:10.1037/1076-89126.96.36.1992.
[iii] Eersel, Janske H. W., Toon W. Taris, and Paul A. Boelen. 2020. “Reciprocal Relations between Symptoms of Complicated Grief, Depression, and Anxiety Following Job Loss: A Cross‐lagged Analysis.” Clinical Psychologist, March. doi:10.1111/cp.12212.