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Psychological Impact of Protracted Unemployment

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Psychological Impact of Protracted UnemploymentAs the economic recession drags on a heavy toll is being taken on the psychological well being of those who lost their jobs and cannot find a new one. Arthur H. Goldsmith, PhD, Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University, warns of the devastating, and possibly permanent, psychological effects of joblessness.

According to Goldsmith, during the first stage of unemployment people manage to retain optimism that they will find another job. In this case, those who lost their jobs at the start of the economic down turn, were aware that they were not alone among those who were no longer working. They were able to blame their fate on the fact that many companies went out of business or down sized. In other words, external factors were responsible for their unemployment.

However, as the recession deepens, people become increasing hopeless about their future. A sense of hopelessness and helplessness breeds depression, anxiety, insomnia, lowered self esteem, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual problems and domestic violence.

Part of the reason for this drastic damage to mental health is that a shift takes place in thinking whereby the unemployed lose their sense of optimism about find a new job and start to blame themselves for their inability to find or keep a job.

Very often, the type of job that is found is much lower in salary and below the skill set and experience that the individual is capable of. If the new job is then lost because that company goes out of business the worker becomes even more convinced that they should have done something to prevent the company from closing and the results are their fault. While this is not rational it does exist.

Many people were able to accumulate a lot of money in their 401K's and savings account while they were employed. Sadly, these funds become depleted as the economic crisis continues. Money that had been slated for retirement, college tuition for children and travel disappears. This adds to the sense of gloom, doom and emotional depression.

It should come as no surprise that men and women go are going through this turmoil if they lost their careers. Work helps define who we are. It provides a sense of importance and accomplishment. It also organizes our days, months and years and helps us reach our dreams and hopes for the future. The inability to find a new job destroys hope and causes lasting damage.

People in this situation, and that includes more and more of us, need two things in order to avoid disaster: 1. A new job. 2. Psychotherapy or counseling.

The conundrum is that psychotherapy can be too expensive when money is not coming in and it does not lead directly to a job. However, there are now internet counseling services and self help groups available and either no cost or greatly discounted fees. Here, at Mentalhelp.net, we have a free online support community for those seeking help.

In addition, there are online counseling services that help develop skills that could be helpful in this new economic environment.

What is most important is that its important to overcome feelings of helplessness and uselessness that are bred by the recession. Finding psychotherapy, career counseling and learning new strategies to find work can help people feel more empowered and less hopeless. Sometimes its a matter of starting a new business based on hobbies and interests. The idea is to not give up hope. Its always important to stress the helpfulness of daily exercise, meditation and yoga to help fight depression and anxiety.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD