For many people, losing a job not only means the loss of income and benefits, but also the loss of one’s identity.
Over 20 million jobs were lost in America this past April, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Americans are experiencing unexpected job loss for the first time.
Job loss for people in the United States — a country where many people’s work and self-worth are interchangeable — often triggers feelings of sadness and loss or worsening depression symptoms.
If you’ve lost your job and are feeling worry and stress, know that you’re not alone and help is available.
The longer you experience unemployment in the United States, the more likely you are to report symptoms of psychological unease, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
The poll also found that 1 in 5 Americans without a job for a year or more report that they’ve been or are currently undergoing treatment for depression.
This is roughly double the rate of depression among those who’ve been without a job for fewer than 5 weeks.
According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, people who are unemployed lose access to job-related benefits such as time structure, social contact, and status, which contributes to increased depression.
The increasing shift toward a gig- and service-oriented economy has put many lower-income households out of work.
About half of these households experienced job or wage loss during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic alone.
It’s normal to grieve the loss of a job. It’s important to remember, however, that your career is not your identity.
Separating your self-worth from your job is especially important in the United States, where employment volatility has been on the rise for more than three decades.
The stages of grief in the wake of a job loss are much the same as the model of key emotional reactions to the experience of dying that Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed and outlined in her book “On Death and Dying.”
These key emotional stages include:
- shock and denial
- acceptance and moving on
It’s particularly important for anyone who has recently experienced unemployment to realize that they’re far from being alone.
It’s also important to encourage them to reach out for support from:
- friends and family
- a counselor or therapist
- a support group
In the wake of a job loss, you may find yourself in the position of being a stay-at-home parent while your partner becomes the primary source of income. This can lead to feelings of social isolation or a loss of self-worth.
The best solution may be to connect with others in a similar situation.
Joshua Coleman, co-chairman of the Council on Contemporary Families in Oakland, California, recommends joining a stay-at-home parent support group.
If you’re a dad new to being an at-home caregiver, the National At-Home Dad Network can help you find support groups near you.
If you’ve recently lost a job, you may be at special risk for developing major depressive disorder (MDD), a serious condition that requires treatment.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, each year about 6.7 percent of U.S. adults experience MDD, with the average age of onset being 32.
If you’re experiencing MDD, it can be hard to imagine a positive way to overcome your employment woes. Symptoms of MDD include:
- feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, or guilt
- feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- fatigue or chronic lack of energy
- difficulty concentrating
- loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, such as a hobby or sex
- insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
- social isolation
- changes in appetite and corresponding weight gain or loss
- suicidal thoughts or behaviors
In the most severe cases, people may experience psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
There is no single test to diagnose depression. However, there are tests that may rule it out.
A healthcare provider can make a diagnosis based on symptoms and an evaluation.
They may ask you about your symptoms and request your medical history. Questionnaires are often used to help determine the severity of the depression.
Criteria for an MDD diagnosis of include experiencing multiple symptoms during an extended period that are not attributable to another condition. The symptoms may disrupt daily life and cause significant distress.
Treatments for MDD typically include:
- antidepressant medications
- talk therapy
- a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapy
Antidepressant medications can include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which attempt to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
If there are symptoms of psychosis, anti-psychotic medications may be prescribed.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that combines cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy.
The treatment consists of addressing your moods, thoughts, and behaviors to find successful ways to respond to stress.
There are also several no-cost or low-cost ways to help you manage symptoms of depression. Some examples include:
- establishing a daily routine to help you feel in control of your life
- setting reasonable goals to help motivate you
- writing in a journal to express your feelings constructively
- joining support groups to share your feelings and gain insight from others struggling with depression
- staying active to reduce stress
In some cases, regular exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication. It can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain and generally increase feelings of well-being.
Psychological distress due to joblessness can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide.
According to a 2015 report published in The Lancet, the risk of suicide due to a lost job increased by 20 to 30 percent during the study, and a job loss during a recession increased the negative effects of the situation.
If you think someone is at immediate risk for self-harm or hurting another person:
- call 911 or your local emergency number.
- stay with the person until help arrives.
- remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you think someone is considering suicide or if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts yourself, immediately contact 911, go to a hospital emergency room, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Sources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration