The hidden mental health crisis faced by job seekers

We hear a lot about the hidden pandemic and the effects that COVID-19 had on our mental health. Ongoing restrictions, social isolation, loss of life and mass unemployment make it difficult to pinpoint what’s creating the most harm for job seekers.

Stories like these mask the hidden mental health crisis related to unemployment. We’ve heard about some of these impacts during news-worthy large-scale events like the Great Recession, but they fade quickly from the news cycle.

This ongoing crisis hides in the isolation and anxiety of the 25 million people laid off annually in North America. It isn’t trendy or well-publicized. At times it’s not even recognized by those in the reemployment industry, but it’s there.

Who's impacted?

Unemployment and its mental health effects can impact us at any stage. Some feel these impacts immediately- others take two to three months or longer. It can be especially challenging for people who are unemployed for an extended period. 

Long-term unemployment is unemployment lasting longer than 27 weeks. We can use it to identify people who risk falling off their quest to get back to work. 

Taking on a position to make ends meet until a better opportunity presents itself doesn’t instantly resolve these problems. For those who consider themselves “underemployed” (not using their entire skillset or underpaid compared to what they previously earned), feelings of unworthiness and anxiety can remain. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an underemployment rate of 8.5% for September 2021 (a statistic not consistently measured in Canada).   

Even employed people can feel uncertainty and pressure while working and wanting to find a role more aligned with their aspirations, goals, and values.

The effects of long-term unemployment on mental health

The impact of unemployment on our mental wellbeing can be similar to losing a loved one. In some cases, it can take longer to return to our baseline levels of wellbeing than when we lose someone close to us. For older job seekers, this ‘grieving process’ hits especially hard.

As one job seeker said:

I was depressed, not clinically, so I didn’t go see a doctor… although maybe I was, and
maybe I should have.

Academic research points to a devastating correlation between mental and physical health and long-term unemployment. Being unemployed negatively impacts many elements of our wellbeing, such as health, activeness, and happiness. These are the same consequences we saw during unemployment peaks triggered by the Great Recession.

While employed, we have many incredible opportunities to socialize. We complete projects with others and work towards a collective goal. We face another challenge when these moments are taken away, and have to spend more time at home.

When our social networks deteriorate, and we feel the shame and stigma associated with being unemployed, we experience physical and psychological isolation. This isolation can lead to social anxiety and potential avoidance of the very activities that will bring us success in our search. It can also make it difficult to be present, engaged, and to perform at our best in the employment selection process.  

The social consequences of unemployment can create a vicious circle where those experiencing it long-term quit the job-seeking process because of the mental health challenges.

What does the future hold for job seekers?

This hidden pandemic is difficult to eradicate. Even people who find their ideal role can continue to experience the residual impacts on their self-esteem and confidence. The uncertainties, isolation and anxieties we experience while unemployed can continue to traumatize and impact our future performance when we find a new job.

While we understand the relationship between unemployment and mental health, it’s still difficult to predict how COVID-19 will fit into this. As our world pulls back restrictions and moves towards normalcy, we’ll have more perspective to assess its impact. 

National and international employment markets experience short-term recovery, but long-term unemployment remains challenging. Simply ‘getting a job’ doesn’t fix everything, and there is no fast or quick solution to this hidden and rarely discussed mental health crisis.

What to do about it?

Many job search clubs and support communities have rules that suppress discussion of negative aspects of unemployment. Without open discussion many job seekers believe they’re alone in their feelings. We’ll dig into this more about that in our upcoming blog on self-shame.

Our goal at Buoyancy is to support you and your mental wellbeing first. We know that if you aren’t doing well, it’s impossible to tackle and sustain the new challenges that a job search brings. It can seem impossible to authentically present yourself as a positive, valuable team member, especially when your confidence shatters.

The Buoyancy platform provides you with the support you need to maintain your wellbeing, rebuild your confidence and reconstruct your sense of self. We provide 1-1 coaching, tracking, insights, and daily snippets to help you keep moving. Check us out and share this article with anyone who might need a little help staying afloat. 

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