Psychologists rank life stressors in a hierarchy of severity and the level of impact the event has in creating stress on an individual. Job loss and the resulting financial hardship rank at the top of the lists. The Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University note the relationship between periods of high unemployment and increases in homicide, suicide, hospital admissions, strokes and even overall death rates. While the exact impact varies with the individual, some general links to unemployment rates and the unemployed are clear.
The impact of losing a job on mental health was systematically studied during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and social scientists continue to explore how joblessness affects mood and attitudes. Loss of income increases anxiety, according to the Institute for Work and Health. The institute also documented the loss of social contacts as a result of unemployment. The unemployed person's social network shrinks and the loss of day-to-day contact with colleagues increases the chance of isolation and results in mental health problems. The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in 2009 also confirmed high levels of despair and clinical depression were linked to unemployment.
Coping with the loss of a job impacts some people more than others. Displaced workers with highly developed coping mechanisms do better dealing with job loss than people with self doubts and a high natural level of anxiety about change. Attaching an overly negative significance to job loss results in loss of self esteem and hurts the workers chance of finding new employment. Treating job loss as a life transition, rather than a life tragedy, results in less loss of esteem and personal dignity.
A study done at the Harvard School of Public Health of more than 8,000 unemployed workers found a link between job loss and development of a new disease or serious health condition when compared to workers of the same age and general health who kept their jobs. New diseases included diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Displaced workers who lost their job through no fault of their own actions were more than twice as likely to develop a new ailment compared with the control group of workers.
Relationships with significant others, children and even friends change when a person loses a job, and the affects on family dynamics has been studied since the Great Depression. Children feel the stress when a parent or guardian loses a job. Studies at the University of California Davis in 2009 and ongoing studies at the Institute for Children and Poverty in New York note a direct link between incidents of school-age children repeating grades and dropping out of school with parents' employment status. Parents who lose their jobs have higher numbers of children who drop out and repeat grades.
- Washington and Lee University; Professor's Research Warns of Psychological Effect of Unemployment; Arthur H. Goldsmith; Oct. 2008
- Bloomberg Businessweek; Study Shows Psychological Impact of Unemployment; Eseme E. Deprez; Sept. 2009
- The New York Times; Poll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S.; Michael Luo and Meghan Thee-Brenan; Dec. 2009
- LexisNexis; The Psychological Impact of Unemployment; June 2009
- Los Angeles Times; Great Recession's Psychological Fallout; Doyle McManus; July 2010
- Colorado State College of Applied Human Sciences; Coping With Unemployment; Robert J. Fetsch