Psychologists' Critical Role in Addressing the Trauma of Joblessness

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the country’s unemployment rate is nearly 10%—the highest in decades (March 2010). Psychologists have the expertise to help individuals address the trauma of joblessness.

  • Unemployed Americans are four times more likely than those with jobs to report symptoms of severe mental illness, including major depression, according to a poll conducted for Mental Health America (The National Alliance on Mental Health and Depression is Real Coalition, Oct. 8, 2009).

  • According to SAMHSA (2010), economic turmoil (e.g., unemployment, foreclosures and loss of investments) can result in both negative physical and mental health consequences. It can be particularly devastating to emotional and mental well-being, resulting in such problems as depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors and substance abuse. In fact, unemployed people are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than employed people (NAMH, Oct. 8, 2009).

  • Almost half of the nation’s unemployed suffer from depression or anxiety; and four in 10 out-of-work parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that parents attribute to their own difficulty finding work (M. Luo and M. Thee-Brenan, The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2009).

  • According to Carl Van Horn, PhD, a Rutgers University professor of public health who studied the damage of unemployment, “Unemployment is a psychologically devastating experience; it’s like having a chronic illness.”

  • According to David Shern, PhD, a psychologist and president of Mental Health America, economic downturns are correlated with increased suicide rates and domestic abuse.

  • Thirteen percent of unemployed people have self-harm thoughts—a rate four times higher than for those with full-time jobs. Moreover, workers who are forced to work fewer hours or take pay cuts are twice as likely to report symptoms of depression as other workers (NAMH, Oct. 8, 2009).

  • Dr. Robert Gallagher found that the economic situation adds a level of stress to college students, the future workforce. In fact, according to a survey he conducted in 2009, campus counseling directors are reporting steady increases in the number of students seeking help for major psychological problems, such as depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. Moreover, young adults who are underemployed experience greater mental and physical health concerns (Paul & Moser, 2009).

  • Joblessness wreaks financial and emotional havoc on the lives of individuals out of work, according a New York Times/CBS News poll (December 2009). The poll revealed that only a quarter of unemployed people who experience anxiety or depression see a mental health professional.

  • Grief, uncertainty and doubt are textbook responses to losing a job; being out of work also is a recipe for a breakdown of mental health. However, help from a mental health professional can make a significant difference (C. Woolston, Work & Health: Why Unemployment is Bad for Your Health, Consumer Health Interactive, March 2009).

  • Because of their extensive education and training, psychologists are especially skilled at addressing the needs of unemployed persons and are uniquely suited to address work-related concerns in both rural and urban settings. In addition, psychologists with a vocational orientation are uniquely qualified to assess the needs of employers and employment agencies, thereby contributing to system-wide and individual needs.

    • Psychologists assist job seekers by:

      1. Assessing the skill sets and interests for retraining and determining the emotional status of the individual

      2. Treating psychological and behavioral health issues

      3. Providing guidance for job searching, interviewing and employability for the unemployed and under employed

      4. Developing retraining curricula and conducting retraining workshops/courses

      5. Implementing strategic psychological interventions that assist workers who are currently in low-wage, unstable and psychologically debilitating jobs in finding secure and satisfying employment, thereby ameliorating related psychological and physical maladies

    • Psychologists assist career counselors and employment agencies by:

      1. Developing and conducting retraining workshops/seminars

      2. Providing consultation on the psychological aspects of unemployment, job seeking and retraining