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Depression from Job Loss: Dealing With External Triggers

For many of us, spending time at work is like having another family besides our own. We go into our office and spend 40, sometimes 50 hours a week with these individuals and develop long-lasting bonds. When you lose that job due to factors beyond your control, not only is it a loss of your income, but it can also be a loss of your identity. 

Unfortunately, over the past several months, an estimated 20 million jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many individuals are dealing with job loss for the first time. In the United States, losing your job poses a unique challenge. For many, work and self-worth are interchangeable, which could trigger feelings of loss, sadness, and a worsening of depression. 

If you’re experiencing depression from job loss, dealing with external triggers isn’t easy. If you continually feel stress and worry, you’re not alone. Fortunately, help is available to you, but first, you need to know what to look for. 

Job Loss Statistics

The longer a person experiences unemployment in the U.S., the more likely they are to report poor psychological symptoms, according to a Gallup poll. The figures went on to demonstrate that one in five Americans without a job for more than a year reported seeking treatment for depression. That number is double the rate of someone unemployed for fewer than five weeks. 

A 2019 Journal of Occupational Health Psychology report found that unemployed individuals will lose access to job-related benefits, including social contact, time structure, and status. All of these contribute to increased depression. An increased shift toward a gig-and-service-oriented economy has placed many lower-income households without work. Nearly half of these households reported job or wage loss in the beginning months of the pandemic. 

How to Cope With Job Loss

When losing the job, it’s expected to go through a grieving process. One thing you must remember, however, your career isn’t your identity. You must separate your self-worth from a job and remind yourself that you are more than that. Unfortunately, over the past three decades in the United States, employment volatility has increased.

The stages of grief a person might experience are similar to that of someone dying. These emotional stages include:

  • Shock and denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance and moving forward

A key factor for someone going through a recent job loss is to remember they’re not alone. The individual is encouraged to reach out for support from one of the following:

  • A support group
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Counselor
  • Therapist

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Symptoms of Depression When Coping With Job Loss

If you’re one of the millions who’ve recently lost their job, you’re at risk of developing major depressive disorder (MDD), which is a severe condition requiring immediate treatment. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 6.7% of adults in the United States will experience MDD, and the average onset is at age 32.

If you believe you’re experiencing major depressive disorder, it’s nearly impossible to find positive means of overcoming your unemployment woes. The most common symptoms of MDD include:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of self-hate, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Chronic lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social isolation
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Suicidal ideation

In severe cases, a person will experience psychotic episodes that include hallucinations or delusions. If that is the case, a person can become a danger to themselves, and it’s vital to get help. If you feel like hurting yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or 911. 

Diagnosing Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

If a doctor diagnoses you with major depressive disorder, you’ll be provided with various treatment options to help overcome your symptoms. The most common treatments include:

  • Talk therapy
  • Antidepressant medications
  • A combination of talk therapy and antidepressants
Woman experiencing depression from job loss

Antidepressant medications can be either a short-term or long-term solution, depending on the case. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to increase serotonin levels in the brain responsible for depression. If you’re experiencing psychosis, your doctor may also provide anti-psychotic medication. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that helps you address thoughts, mood, and provide you with positive ways to respond to stress. For someone experiencing job loss, you may also be dealing with a loss of insurance. In that case, there are other no-cost ways to manage symptoms of depression. 

Dealing With External Triggers

Fortunately, there are ways to cope with external triggers that either exacerbate depression or push someone to relapse on drugs or alcohol. Dealing with job loss is challenging; managing depression is even more difficult, but relapsing is the worst-case scenario. Here are some examples of how to deal with external triggers:

  • Stay active to reduce stress—ride a bike, walk your pet around the block, or take a free yoga class online.
  • Join a support group to share your feelings with others. This can help you gain insight from others struggling with depression and cope with external triggers.
  • Start writing or drawing in a journal to express your feelings, both constructively and safely.
  • Set achievable goals that provide a sense of motivation.
  • Establish a daily routine. This will help you feel like you’re in control of your life and not the other way around.

A consistent exercise routine has been found as useful as medication when battling depression. It helps to increase dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain, which are responsible for an increase in feelings of well-being. 

Preventing Suicide

As was mentioned above, suicidal thoughts can stem from losing your job. A report from the Lancet found the risk of suicide increased by 20% to 30% when the study was conducted. A job loss during a recession only made matters worse and increased these effects. Again, we must reiterate, if you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, please consider the following:

  • Listen, but don’t judge, yell, argue, or be threatening.
  • Remain on the scene with the individual until help arrives.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Remove any medications, knives, guns, or other things that can cause physical harm.

Remember, you’re not alone. We understand that times are challenging given the current climate, but harming yourself is never the answer. Like everything else in life, this too shall pass, and once it does, you will only grow stronger. The grass is greener on the other side, and if you’re battling with depression from job loss, help is available to get you through.

Sources

BMC Psychiatry (2019) Effectiveness of Physical Exercise in the Treatment of Depression in Older Adults As An Alternative to Antidepressant Drugs in Primary Care from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1982-6

CNN Business (May 2020) Record 20.5 Million American Jobs Lost In April from https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/08/economy/april-jobs-report-2020-coronavirus/index.html

Gallup (June 2014) In U.S., Depression Rates Higher For Long-Term Unemployed from https://news.gallup.com/poll/171044/depression-rates-higher-among-long-term-unemployed.aspx

APA PsycNet (2019) Why Do Individuals Suffer During Unemployment? from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-18073-001?doi=1

ADAA (December 2020) Facts & Statistics. From from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Pew Research Center (April 2020) About Half of Lower-Income American’s Report Household Job or Wage Loss Due to COVID-19 from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/04/21/about-half-of-lower-income-americans-report-household-job-or-wage-loss-due-to-covid-19/

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