The Effects of Long-Term Unemployment

If you’ve been facing long-term unemployment, you may be experiencing emotional as well as financial effects of job loss. Realizing that what you’re feeling is normal will help you get through this difficult time.

Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH

As economic woes persist in this country, there’s no question that the massive job loss that accompanied the downturn has had a huge financial effect on people’s lives. But what’s often overlooked are the emotional effects of unemployment. This is particularly true when job loss becomes long-term unemployment — unemployment that lasts for months or even years. For millions of Americans now, this has become the unfortunate reality.

For many people, their job isn’t just what they do to pay the bills — it defines who they are. And when that identity is taken away by job loss and unemployment, the emotional consequences can be severe.

“Personal identity and professional identity are intertwined to the extent that the person has defined themselves by what they do,” says Denise Glassmoyer, PsyD, a doctor of clinical psychology and a family therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. “For these people, the impact of unemployment extends well beyond the financial impact. In addition to losing their job, there may be the overwhelming sense that they have lost themselves. Many experience profound self-doubt accompanied by feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness.”

If the job loss persists over the months or years to the point of long-term unemployment, these feelings can grow and fester and eventually lead to more severe consequences for the individual and his relationships, says Sybil Keane, PhD, a psychology and relationship expert for the Web site JustAnswer.

“Long-term unemployment brings depression, anger, stress, and a lack of self-confidence,” says Keane. “Over time, it can produce self-destructive habits such as drinking, smoking, drug use, and relationship problems.”

Tips for Dealing with Long-Term Unemployment

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad when it comes to long-term unemployment and job loss. By changing your viewpoint on the situation, you can minimize the negative effects of unemployment and even create some positive ones. Here is what experts recommend:

  • Reach out to others. Some people tend to shut down and isolate themselves during trying times like long-term unemployment, but you must stay emotionally connected. Says Larry Bugen, PhD, an Austin, Texas-based psychologist and author of several books, “Get past wounded pride and tell someone new about your situation at least twice a week. Emotional support and vocational guidance are likely to result.”
  • Acknowledge and grieve the loss. Eventually, you need to move on, but you can’t just pretend that the loss didn’t happen, says Bugen. You need to allow yourself to go through the typical stages of grief before you can move past the job loss. “Acknowledge its impact on you emotionally, physically, and psychologically,” he says.
  • Look for new opportunities. Once you have put that old job to bed, then you can begin to turn the effects of unemployment into something positive by changing your mindset, says Glassmoyer. “As devastating as long-term unemployment can be, the ‘crisis’ of unemployment can be a catalyst for new possibilities, for re-examining priorities, and for exploring both personal and professional interests,” she says. “In a sense, long-term unemployment is like shaking neatly placed puzzle pieces out of the frame and into a jumbled pile. Each piece must be rediscovered and re-examined before they can be put back together.”
  • Learn something new. One way to start this process after job loss, adds Keane, is to pour yourself into a new educational opportunity. This may lead to another job, or just greater life fulfillment. “Discovering new passions or rekindling old ones are both great ways to spark confidence,” she says.
  • Volunteer your time. While you’re waiting for the next opportunity to come along, you can make your life more rewarding and fulfilling by devoting time to others who are in even greater need than you. It’s a great way to keep things in perspective and focus on the positives in your life. “Helping individuals in trying times is guaranteed to result in personal fulfillment,” says Keane.
  • Stick to a schedule. To keep yourself emotionally stable during a period of long-term unemployment, it’s important to maintain a fairly consistent schedule — just as if you still had a job, suggests Keane. “Get up at the same time each day, and try to make an hourly schedule,” she says.

Keep in mind that the emotional and financial impact of long-term unemployment can be very challenging for almost anybody. If you need outside help in the form of counseling, it’s important to admit this to yourself and get it. “Find a therapist or career coach you can meet with and talk over your situation,” Keane says. “Professional guidance will help structure the process of coping.”


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