Mental Health and Job Loss: Relationship is Not What You’d Expect

Conventional wisdom says that when a person loses their employment, their well-being, sense of self, and psychological resilience take a hit, and continue to go downhill the longer they’re unemployed. But a newly-published, long-term study on the psychology of employment finds that it’s not as simple as that. As employment counselors can attest, different people react to job loss differently. Yes, there is a sharp drop in happiness and life satisfaction in the short term after the job loss. But the study found that, looking long term (for three years before the job loss and four years after), people can be grouped into four different categories regarding how they psychologically and emotionally respond to job loss.

The largest group, representing 69% of respondents, was actually quite emotionally and psychologically resilient, both before and after the job loss. This group had a stable sense of life satisfaction in the years leading up to unemployment, then a sharp drop when they were let go. But by a year later, “their average life satisfaction had returned to its pre-unemployment level.” This is not to say that unemployment is easy. It’s not, especially when a household depends on that income. Many people who are unemployed suffer from depression and anxiety. They’re stressed out by financial issues and feeling low about their ability to achieve, accomplish, and contribute.

But your job alone is not who you are. Therapists work with patients to address many aspects of their lives, be it family and friends, interests and activities, vocation, spiritual practice, or other meaningful pursuit. Satisfaction in all of these areas of life, plus physical health, are what make the ‘whole picture.’ If unemployment creates a financial burden that stresses the household, the stress and anxiety of finances will have a negative impact on day-to-day feelings. But that factor doesn’t negate the many other positive elements in the person’s life.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • KK

    KK

    December 16th, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Sometimes a ‘break’ like this one does make people think about themselves Ina new light,and maybe theyll also mend themselves and become unsackable ;)

  • Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    December 16th, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    It’s nice to hear some good news about the unemployment problem! Resilience is a key ingredient in mental health. Our clients who have unresolved past traumas triggered by current stress are going to have a harder time. I look at the presence of resilience as one of the indicators that therapy is complete and successful.

  • stan

    stan

    December 16th, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I never thought I’d be unemployed and redundancy came as a shock to me when it happened. I was lucky to find another job within six months, although that felt much longer when I had bill collectors breathing down my neck. I never knew how much my work was enmeshed in me until it was no more. Once you get over the financial juggling, you reevaluate your life and go on from there. I did anyway.

  • Topher

    Topher

    December 16th, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Job loss shows you who your true friends are too. Unemployment changes you from the guy who was always invited to dinner as a networking ploy to the guy they avoid making eye contact with in the street in case he asks for a job. When you’re on top, everybody wants to be your friend. When you fall, not so much. I got back on top and surprise, surprise, those fair weather friends began crawling out of the woodwork again. I sent them packing and took care instead of the people who had believed in and supported me when no-one else did. Quid pro quo!

  • Russ

    Russ

    December 16th, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    Losing my job was unbelievably the best thing that ever happened to me. Like most breadwinners my career path was a familiar one. I worked too many hours, didn’t look after myself physically or mentally, took too few vacations and spent too long away from my family when I was employed. It took me a year of retraining and job hunting to find a new one and I’m happy as a clam. There’s no prestige in this role, which equates to no pressure. I chose that consciously. I realized while unemployed what a mess was making of my life. As you say, your job alone is not your life. You can come back from the brink and be in even better shape.

  • Defoe

    Defoe

    December 16th, 2010 at 11:49 PM

    Losing your job is often a negative thing but the rare occasion in which it’s good it does show you a great deal of stuff that you had either ignored for too long or had no time for.All in all it depends on a whole lot of things and the person himself too.

  • Mr.Bean

    Mr.Bean

    December 17th, 2010 at 2:49 AM

    If something negative actually results in something nice unexpectedly it’s not something to be happy about…or is it?!

  • Kayla

    Kayla

    December 17th, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    When my husband lost his job that was his chance to find out who he really was and what he wanted to do with his life. I guess it was a difficult way for us both to see that but had he not lost that job he would have probably stayed there miserable for many years to come. It has been a hard transition financially, but now he is going back to school to pursue a dream that he has had for a while, and losing that job was what finally forced him to push forward in the right direction.

  • Jake

    Jake

    December 17th, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    I can understand why many in that survey were resilient. The fear of redundancy turned out to be worse than the reality. We kept a roof over our heads and food on the table. In that eight months I rediscovered my wife, myself and my children. I had missed so much and hadn’t appreciated the everyday blessings I had until I was forced to stop rushing out the door every morning. I gained a new admiration for my wife and all she does too to keep our family and home running like clockwork, which improved our relationship. Unemployment was stressful of course too. But it was also a gift in other respects.

  • Shannon

    Shannon

    December 19th, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    No your job is not what makes you but when it is what pays the bills then it is very easy to see how people can get so down about losing it. I mean most of us could not survive without an income and if your role in the family has always been that of the provider then it is going to be difficult to swallow the fact that this may not be your role anymore. What someone like this who is unemployed has to realize is that there are so many other ways to support the family, that it is not always just baout money. There are numerous other ways to contribute to the household in ways that can bring fulfillment too.

  • Gail J. Jones

    Gail J. Jones

    July 2nd, 2013 at 1:11 AM

    Some people are just not good in coping when they lose their jobs. I think it’s important that we grieve even when we lose our jobs, we feel the pain but we don’t have to stay in that situation for a long time. We still have to think about the future, move on and face reality.

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