Severe Depression From Job Loss

Let’s face it. Most of us derive a huge portion of our sense of purpose from our professional lives. We work hard to gain a certain level of career success over the years, as well as form meaningful relationships with our coworkers. Many, however, have found themselves suddenly without employment due to the fallout from Covid-19.

For umpteen years our daily routines have revolved around the parameters defined by our jobs. Our daily schedule has been predictable, our commute time refined, and job expectations understood. We strove to be productive and hopefully indispensable, so it is easy to understand why an unexpected job loss can result in severe depression.

Depression is a serious mental health event that requires professional psychotherapy and possibly medication if symptoms persist for more than two weeks. While the loss of our job is destabilizing … scary, even, it helps to gain a healthy perspective about this stressful life event so you can begin to rebound and become productive once again. A mental health provider can assist in this healing process while helping you to manage the symptoms related to depression. 

A Job is Much More than a Paycheck

An unprecedented 43% of American workers have lost their jobs due to the impact of the pandemic on the economy. While ‘misery loves company,’ as the saying goes, knowing you are not alone doesn’t really remove the sting of a sudden and unexpected job loss. Our identities are wrapped up in our livelihoods, making loss of a job one of the more stressful life events to be endured. Without warning, we find ourselves deeply concerned about making ends meet and providing for our families, which can catapult us into despair.

Although government stimulus programs have been quickly created to help ease the pain related to job termination, winding through the maze of bureaucracy has been difficult for many citizens. Four months into the pandemic, many Americans still have yet to receive any federal or state assistance.

But aside from the harsh economic realities associated with loss of employment, our egos are hurt as well. In normal times, the rush of feeling productive, of contributing to a company’s core mission, and of earning a paycheck is directly related to our self-esteem and self-confidence. Without the ability to produce goods or services, we feel aimless, which can lead to developing a depressive disorder.

Recognizing the Signs of Depression Following a Job Loss

It is important to distinguish between clinical depression and a temporary condition that is directly related to a job loss. For some, the loss of a job or a layoff, or another unsettling event, may negatively affect mood for at least several days before they begin to rebound emotionally. A diagnosis of major depressive disorder is made when a cluster of symptoms begin to cause impairment in functioning and last for a minimum of two weeks. 

The DSM-5 identifies nine hallmark symptoms of depression. When five or more of these symptoms persist for two weeks or more, a diagnosis of depression is made. These symptoms include:

  1. Feelings of sadness, despair, or hopelessness that persist most of the day
  2. Fatigue, malaise, listlessness
  3. Loss of interest in regular activities or hobbies
  4. Slowed thinking or body movements
  5. Change in eating habits leading to sudden weight gain or loss
  6. Sleep disorders, either insomnia or hypersomnia
  7. Feelings of shame or guilt that are inappropriate to the situation
  8. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  9. Persistent thoughts of death or suicide

When symptoms are present, the first step is to reach out to your primary care provider who can conduct a physical exam and order blood work. If there is no medical explanation for the depression symptoms it is essential to follow up by seeking the guidance of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. 

Holistic Activities that can Help Manage Depression

Following a job loss, it is helpful to begin practicing some self-care as a means of improving mental health. The following holistic activities are helpful in relieving low mood, and are often prescribed as complementary actions to traditional therapy:

  • Soak up the sunshine. One quick and easy depression management tool is the sun. So, grab a book and sit outside to catch some vitamin D, which has been scientifically proven to help prevent or treat depression.
  • Take a yoga class. Immerse yourself in the healing properties associated with practicing yoga. Whether it is a live outdoor yoga class or an online version, find the type of yoga that works for you and enjoy the mental health benefits.
  • Practice mindfulness. Ruminating over a job loss only keeps you stuck in the past and negative thinking. Shift thoughts to the present moment through mindfulness meditation. Acknowledge your state of mind, notice your surroundings, and focus on breathing to reach a calm, peaceful state.
  • Find ways to be productive. Just because you are not currently employed is no excuse to stop being a productive person. We gain confidence and self-esteem is improved when we engage in a task or project, so make a to-do list and get busy.
  • Stay socially connected. Nothing exacerbates depression like isolation or loneliness. Remain connected to your friends, colleagues, and family members for ongoing love and support while you weather this setback.
  • Limit news coverage. The unending parade of negative news only draws you deeper into the depressive state of mind. Limit your news intake to a brief update in the morning and evening, capping this at no more than 1 hour per day total.

Getting Help for Depression During Covid-19

If depression becomes severe after a job loss, and holistic activities do not seem to be helping your state of mind, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional for some expert help. Even during the pandemic, psychotherapy is available through tele-mental health platforms, as well as the services of a psychiatrist. Do not hesitate to obtain the supportive care of a mental health provider to help guide you back to wellness.