Your Brain on Unemployment– What Happens to Your Mental Health

It’s May and college graduation season is here. It’s the beginning of the “real world” for young adults around the country and many will need jobs. The job market is improving, but for recent graduates the statistics still don’t look that great. The unemployment rate in 2014 was at 8.5% compared to 5.5% in 2007. Being unemployed, recent grad or not, is damaging to ones mental health and can lead to depression. It’s important to one’s metal health and to their job search to identify the warning signs and find a way to stay positive during stressful times. For people who are employed, understanding the mental wellbeing of the unemployed can improve policy and programs that support them.

People with jobs are not the only ones who experience the occasional case of the Mondays. For the unemployed, Mondays are the weekly affirmation that another work week has started but there’s still no job to go to. According to a recent Gallop poll, the longer the job seeker is unemployed the more pessimistic they become. In the first two weeks, they give themselves a 30.1% chance that they will not have a job in the next four weeks. At week 27, it’s around 50%. Then at week 52, it’s at 71.3%. Overall negativity is not appealing to potential employers and that kind of outlook can shine through. More concerning still is the increase in self-doubt that can lead to loss of motivation and the risk dropping out of the work force all together. Alienation can also occur when feeling unhappy or embarrassed. When avoiding family or friends, people miss out on positive support and networking opportunities. The longer you’re unemployed the harder it is to get a job. The harsh realities of unemployment are further exemplified by its cyclical nature. Former White House chief economist Alan Krueger said that many return to unemployment within a year.

Sending out resumes week after week with little to no response can have its toll psychologically. The rejection and lack of control is the most damaging. There’s a lot of negativity that comes with job-hunting so it’s important to counteract it with positive behaviors and thoughts. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. For those who are unemployed, consider a few changes to your day-to-day schedule to power your job-seeking game and to encourage positivity in your life.

Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, suggests creating a schedule. Have a specific time periods when you’re going to sending out resumes, eat, relax and socialize. Leahy also suggests trying something different to obtain new skills. Stay busy trying new things, perhaps pursuing a long time interest. Use the time to your advantage and you may find fulfillment or a new network.

As a semi-recent graduate, I remember feeling excited about the future possibilities but anxious about not knowing my next step. I graduated from undergrad spring of 2014. The majority of the past year I’ve been unemployed or underemployed. There’s an unsettling feeling not having a job out of college. It’s like releasing an endangered species born into captivity back to the wild. According to the APA, those with higher education are likely to experience more severe mental health issues during long-term unemployment. When I was unemployed I started to exercise more. It was a way to release stress while getting into better shape. I found that feeling better physically made it easier to feel better mentally. I can attest that it’s not easy, but finding a way to stay optimistic really made a world of difference for me. Not only will it benefit your mental health, but it could help you land a job sooner. If someone you know is unemployed support them by better understanding what they’re going through.

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