Employment and mental health issues are intimately connected, so when job loss occurs, people find themselves experiencing new or worsening depressive symptoms.

Work is a central point in the lives of many people. Not only does their position provide them with money, but it also offers structure, socialization, a sense of purpose and belonging.

When a person loses their job or does not have a job, they can experience a void that becomes difficult to fill. Without employment, people may fall into problematic thinking and behavior patterns that result in negative mental health effects, including depression.

Impacts of COVID-19

More than any year in recent memory, 2020 has been a challenge for many due to COVID-19. Many people lost their jobs due to the changing economic landscape. Others left their work to be at home with their family members in need, including children learning from home and older relatives that required additional support.

Unemployment rates are at record highs, and many people are struggling to adapt to the changing world.

Related Topic: How Employers Are Helping – Or Not – Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

The Connection Between Job Status & Mental Health

Jobs offer people so much in terms of their mental health and well-being. The financial gain of the paycheck is noteworthy, but the positive effects of work on psychological health go deeper.

Employment provides:

  • An opportunity to socialize with likeminded people outside of the home
  • Time removed from the stressors or stagnation of the home environment
  • Structure and a sense of stability
  • Outlets to practice problem-solving and communication skills
  • Experiences to feel power, control and fulfillment
  • An identity

All of these elements can boost a person’s mental health. When functioning well in a workplace, a person can gain self-esteem and feel confident, competent and self-assured.

Of course, work can create new stress and worsen stress, but when employment is adequate, it can serve as a protective factor that boosts mental health and limits the risks of stress.

Unemployment & Mental Health

When a person encounters job loss, it can create a string of unwanted and sometimes unexpected repercussions. Some of the most common responses to job loss include:

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Confusion
  • Sadness and grief
  • Bargaining and compromise
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Feeling lost and aimless

The effects of job loss often mirror the impact of a loved one’s death. Strong feelings of grief will emerge.

Job loss does not happen in a vacuum, though, so when unemployment occurs, it increases the current levels of stress a person is experiencing. If their stress is at a “5” out of 10 while employed, it could easily grow to an “8” or higher when unemployed since their healthy coping skills may be gone.

When stress rises and mental health symptoms worsen, people may turn to unhealthy coping skills like substance abuse to improve symptoms and manage stress. These behaviors provide short-term relief but only exacerbate the unwanted effects in the long-term.

How To Cope With Unemployment Depression in Healthy Ways

Rather than relying on alcohol and other drugs to cope with unemployment depression, people should focus on healthy coping skills. The healthiest skills may seem uncomfortable and challenging at first, but they create the best effects with time.

Some helpful unemployment coping skills include:

  • Building a routine. Job schedules can dictate a person’s routine, so they can find themselves rudderless when that schedule ends. Forming new patterns and rituals will establish a sense of normalcy.
  • Setting goals. Going to a job makes a person set and complete goals, which leads to feelings of power and control. Now, a person must set new goals outside of the workplace to continue those feelings. Consider objectives related to physical health, hobbies, activities and new skills.
  • Reframing your perceptions. If a person views job loss as a crisis, they will feel panicked and depressed. If they can switch their view to see the situation as an opportunity for growth, they could feel optimistic and invigorated. The only difference is perspective.
  • Strengthening social bonds. Times of loss and depression tend to isolate people and remove them from loved ones. Choose to reach out to love and support rather than loneliness. Connect with friends and family to let them know what you are going through and how they can help.

Flip Side — How Job Stress Can Impact Mental Health

People’s jobs have changed dramatically with the rise of coronavirus, and now frontline health workers, teachers, bus drivers and people in the restaurant industry face unbelievable challenges. For these people and many others, the stress of going to work is intense.

No matter the source, high stress levels over time will result in negative influences on mental health. These influences could produce depression, anxiety, panic attacks and various other mental health conditions.

Coping Strategies for Work-Related Stress

Luckily, healthy coping skills are effective for all stressful circumstances. People can build routines, set goals, communicate with their loved ones and reframe their thinking at any time. Some coping strategies for work-related stress include:

  • Forming a work-life balance. When work is adding to stress, it could indicate a poor balance between work and life. Working is an important part of life, but it should not have enough power to sway a person’s views completely. Take an inventory of your balance and take measures to shift as needed.
  • Starting to say “no.” People who feel more stressed at work commonly struggle to say “no” to others in the workplace. If people assert themselves, set clear boundaries and kindly refuse something, their stress will shrink.
  • Practicing self-care. Self-care involves all thoughts and behaviors that focus on improving physical, mental, social, spiritual or emotional health. Figure out where you find joy and do it more.

How to Know if You’re Feeling Anxious or Depressed?

In many cases, depression and anxiety symptoms develop slowly and covertly, making it difficult to notice. Because of this, a person must be vigilant to quickly identify the signs of any mental health condition as they build.

Symptoms of Depression

Depressive disorders include conditions like major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Although the diagnoses differ, the most frequently encountered symptoms of depression include:

  • Low mood or high irritability
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Feeling sped up or slowed down
  • Problems focusing and making decisions
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Increased thoughts of death, dying and suicide

People usually need multiple symptoms of depression to receive the diagnosis, but even one or two could indicate employment-related stress is building.

Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders typically have fewer symptoms than depressive disorders, which means a person must pay close attention to their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to note the condition. Expected anxiety symptoms include:

  • Increased worry, stress and anxiety
  • Feeling on edge, restless or keyed up
  • Being tired and easily fatigued
  • Problems concentrating and mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Feeling physically tense
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling rested in the morning

In cases of extreme anxiety, panic attacks may produce symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Sweating or chills
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Feeling shaky
  • Extreme fear

These symptoms will be a more obvious sign that anxiety is not well managed.

Quizzes & Assessments

Online quizzes and assessments can seem like helpful ways to better understand stress, anxiety, depression and addiction, but these tools must be used with caution. All people will note some levels of sadness, worry, stress and irritability, so a trained and experienced mental health or substance abuse professional is needed to differentiate between typical and atypical reports. However, assessments used by these professionals, like the ones in The Recovery Village patient portal, can be a first step towards seeking professional help.

Professionals will not only look at the symptoms. They will also inspect the frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms and the influence these symptoms are having on the person’s life. In the end, self-diagnosis is never recommended.

How To Find More Help

Help is always available for those in need. If you are currently without insurance because of unemployment issues, contact your local assistance office to learn if you qualify for free or discounted coverage. Many local mental health centers will offer free or reduced-cost services to county residents. The Recovery Village patient portal also offers free resources and videos for anyone to use.

People experiencing a crisis should call 911 for immediate assistance or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP for help identifying and contacting treatment options.

In addition, The Recovery Village offers confidential assessments for people in need and can work to establish a helpful course of treatment. If you or a loved one needs help managing their addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions, contact us today.

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Eric Patterson
Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

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Kaiser Family Foundation. August 21, 2020. April 2012. Accessed November 13, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.” October 2015. April 2012. Accessed November 13, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.