Study Focuses On Psychological Effects Of Unemployment

By Staff
September 4, 2009

A new study says that workers who have lost their jobs often experience depression, anxiety and strained relationships.

The study, entitled "The Anguish of Unemployment," was conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and was based on surveys of 1,200 people who are currently unemployed or have been in the past 12 months. The vast majority of respondents said that they experienced anxiety, helplessness, depression, stress and sleeping problems after losing their jobs. Others described despair about finding employment at older ages.

"We don't tend to look at unemployment as having a psychological effect, just an economic one," said co-author Carl Van Horn, who was quoted in Business Week. "For many people, being unemployed is embarrassing. They're not interested in talking about it and think of it as their fault. As a researcher for 35 years, I'm struck by the breadth and depth of the psychological impacts."

Other media outlets have explored this phenomenon as well. Last month, The Washington Post reported on Clinton Cole, who lost his job as a business development manager with General Dynamics Information Technology in February and was too embarrassed to tell anyone except his wife and children. For weeks, he would dress in a suit and leave the house every day at the same time he normally left to work to make others believe that he was still employed.

"In this area, in the shadow of our nation's capital, so much is about appearances," he told the Post. "There was fear that other kids wouldn't play with your kids. You won't be invited to parties or be ostracized. Or that others would distance themselves from you because you might need help they won't be able to provide. All those thoughts race through your mind."

Cynthia Turner, a licensed clinical social worker, noted that she had unemployed clients who, feeling ashamed about their job loss, continued to pay their country club memberships. "What I see is people willing to talk about the stock market but not willing to talk about. . .losing a job, being furloughed or laid off," she said.

Van Horn noted that the survey's results indicate that the economic downturn's impact will be felt even after more Americans find work. Long-term unemployment, he said, may lead to higher divorce rates and could make Americans less willing to take financial risks.

"Just as the Great Depression had a big effect, this is a major life-changing experience for people," he said in Business News. "It's not like getting over a cold--it's like recovering from serious illness."

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