As of mid-July, 32 million Americans were considered unemployed. North Carolina alone is nearing 1.2 million unemployment insurance claims as federal support remains uncertain. While the economic effects of nationwide job loss can be measured, the mental health effects are more difficult to quantify.
Wake Forest counseling professor Seth Hayden, who studies the connection between career and mental health says a change in work status causes stress and anxiety that is difficult to navigate even in the best of economic times.
“When someone loses a job, whether it has been on the horizon or if it is sudden, there is a sense of loss,” says Hayden. “They may feel anxious, angry, confused or sad. Work is an interconnected dimension of the human experience that affects our perception of ourselves. The expiration of CARES Act funding means many families are about to experience even more dire economic hardship and anxiety as rent and bills come due.”
When layoffs and job losses happen there is a domino effect that can elicit a sense of loss to the point of experiencing grief. For those with families, there is even more at stake when relationships are strained by economic insecurity which can impact access to basic necessities for parents and children, Hayden says.
“It is important to note, there are community agencies and providers who offer mental health for free or on an ability-to-pay basis.” Seth Hayden, career and mental health counseling expert
He emphasizes the close connection between mental health and work. In the broader context of our lives, work provides income, health care, and a sense of fulfillment when tasks we are responsible for are successfully completed. Ancillary benefits such as opportunities for collaboration, social connections, and recognition for a job well done can also be derived from work, says Hayden.
Taking the next step can be difficult. Hayden, offers the following suggestions on how to address the personal and emotional challenges after a job loss.
- Determine community and governmental resources that can provide for basic needs.
- Access free employment resources such as CareerOneStop for assistance with career exploration, training and jobs.
- Develop self-awareness of emotions and thoughts associated with being unemployed for ongoing monitoring of mental wellbeing during this challenging time.
- Determine ways to utilize social support networks such as families and friends even in the context of COVID-19 as relationships can help with processing this experience.
- Monitor physical health such as eating habits, exercise and sleep as these can be compromised when experiencing unemployment stress.
Hayden says ongoing emotional and psychological challenges may need to be addressed with the support of mental health services. “It is important to note that there are community agencies and providers who offer services for free or on an ability-to-pay basis.”
Hayden is available for interviews.
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