This year due to the pandemic (and resulting global recession) I, like thousands of others, was unemployed from April to the end of October – so for about 6 months. It was stressful to lose my job of course, but for a little while at first, I was thankful for the chance to slow down and have time to do things I enjoy at home. Then I think the reality hit me, and my mental health really started to get affected.
Below is a list of feeling that I had, and the ways I managed to pull myself out of them. If you’re dealing with unemployment and relate to any of these emotions, I hope this blog post can help give you a little boost, or at least the feeling of not being alone in these struggles.
1) Loss of Purpose
I struggled a lot with feeling like my days, my time, and by extension my life didn’t mean anything. Every day was the same and I felt like I had nothing to look forward to and no point to my everyday life. Those were very hard emotions to grapple with, and definitely left a dent in my self-esteem. I found that when I made the conscious choice to put energy into things I cared about (like activism or art) even just one little bit per day, then I felt some of that sense of purpose to my days and myself coming back.
2) Loss of Structure
For me, a clear structure is very important to my mental health. Without one, I very easily slide into depressive feelings. Knowing what to do with my time when there are no boundaries to it like there are when I’m working or studying, my days would slip into aimless wandering around the house or self-isolating, which was quite possibly the worst aspect of unemployment for my mental health. My motivation all but disappeared. I found that once I made the conscious decision to force a schedule on myself; to get up at a certain time each day even I didn’t “have to” and plan a few activities each day that I made myself do, this really helped to give me back some sense of structure and normalcy. This also brought back my motivation to actively engage in my life.
3) Shame and Guilt
This was also a big one. I felt, at times a very overwhelming sense that I was doing something wrong by being unemployed, and especially on government benefits, even though I knew logically that I didn’t choose this and was doing my best (whatever that looked like) to get through this hard period. We all get some very strong messages that if we can’t work, can’t be “productive”, then we are worth less as people and it is VERY hard to get that conditioning out of our haed. We are also told that needing help, financially or otherwise, while experiencing extended unemployment (pandemic and recession or not) is something that we should feel shameful about and that we are a burden on society and our loved ones. I really struggled to work against those messages even though they are so far from being my actual values. I found that when I remembered what my values surrounding these issues actually were, imagined what I would say to a loved one in my same position, and reminded myself that I am not at fault for losing my job, it made the shame and guilt feel not so big.
4) Loss of Income
This is probably the simplest of mental health issues that arise from unemployment: the anxiety around a sudden, unplanned for loss of income. I was anxious all the time about running out of money, needing to ask people in my life and the government for financial help, or being confronted by an emergency that required money I did not have. I needed to remind myself that I cannot control those things, that asking for help is not a shameful thing, and that I will be okay even if my financial situation did vastly change. These reminders especially when combined with mindfulness or distress tolerance exercises helped me a lot to keep the panic at bay and avoid catastrophizing.
5) Unknown Length of Unemployment
Given the global pandemic and recession that led to my personal experience of extended unemployment I had less confidence in the knowledge that I would find a job within a timeline I felt was manageable for me. This unknown was very difficult for me to process and to accept. I had to do a lot of radical acceptance here. I had to tell myself that I would survive for as long as I needed to and that a job would come eventually. I had to really let go of control and accept that I couldn’t do anything to fix the problem as it was in reality much bigger than just me and my skills.
6) Loss of Confidence in my Skills
Job hunting is a very hard process at the best times when the job market is great and lots of people are hiring. Job hunting in the middle of a pandemic and global recession is even harder. I got rejected a lot and that was really hard on my confidence in my skills and my knowledge that I am good at what I do and deserve to work in my chosen field. I started to have thoughts that maybe despite all I knew about what was going on and why losing job happened, that I was really unemployed because I didn’t have the skills I thought I did. I found that affirmations from loved ones who had seen me along the process of training for my job and knew I had the necessary qualities as a person for my industry, really helpful in confronting those thoughts.
If you are feeling any of these things in regards to being unemployed please use the suggested coping strategies, engage with a program like eFriend, or seek counselling support from an accessible service using your now 20 free counselling sessions through a mental health plan from your GP.
This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.
To book your first call visit: efriend.org.au