Unemployment can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety

When Alice Middlebrook goes to a job fair, she has to brace herself for hours of being told “no.”


Middlebrook worked in medical records and billing for years, but since being layed off in February she has not been able to find employment in her field. When she is searching, she says the process of looking for a job is taking a serious toll on her emotional well-being.

“The whole rejection thing makes you begin to wonder, am I just very simply worthless now?” she said.

She is open to doing something outside her field, but gets overwhelmed when she comes to job fairs and sees the crowds of people all trying for the same positions.

“How am I ever going to stand out?” she said. “That’s discouraging.”

Dr. Gina Duncan is assistant professor of psychiatry at Georgia Health Sciences University, and she said losing a job or being unemployed for an extended time often triggers an emotional and psychological impact.

“It understandably cuts at your self worth,” Duncan said.

Careers are often where people place the most time and energy, Duncan said, especially in the U.S. and other First World countries. Being without a job is often looked upon as negative, and Duncan said many people come under fire from friends and relatives for losing their jobs, whether it was preventable or not.

“We tend to stigmatize people who don’t have a job,” she said. “We take a lot of our image from the type of work we do, and when that is taken away, people often have to face even their own stigmas.”

She said depression and anxiety become even more prevalent when someone has been job searching for a long time and cannot find work.

“It can get pretty difficult,” Middlebrook agreed. “I think it really takes a toll on your ego.”

Even though it is frustrating, she goes to job fairs and she has been posting her résumé on Web sites and checking every day for new openings.

Middlebrook said she is fortunate enough to have a strong support group of friends and family and believes that has been the key to her surviving this difficult time.

“It’s essential,” she said. “You have to surround yourself with people, and you have to stay upbeat.”

Dr. Hany Elia, a psychiatrist with Serenity Behavioral Health, said one of the most important things those loved ones can do is to remind the person that she is still loved, and that her worth is not connected to a position or career.

“Just let the person know they are valued whether they are employed or not,” Elia said. “It’s not their fault this happened.”

Debbie Walker has worked as a certified career coach and a licensed mental health counselor for more than 10 years, and she said when people lose their jobs, they often experience feelings of guilt, anger and isolation. Individuals who have families often feel guilty for not being able to provide, but Walker said she encourages people to stop and work through the emotional hurt before worrying about the future.

“The first priority is always the person and their well-being,” she said. “It’s very discouraging when people get asked things like, what did you do to lose your job.”

Through her time without a job, Middlebrook said her perspective has changed on the place a career should have in a person’s life.

“I think we place so much of our self worth on what we do, instead of who we are,” she said.

  • About 9 percent of Americans were defined as clinically depressed in data released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, compared to an estimated 6.6 percent in data collected in 2001 and 2002.
  • Unemployed people are also twice as likely to report concern with their mental health or use of alcohol or drugs within the last six months than individuals working full time, according to a 2009 study by Mental Health America.
  • Thirteen percent of unemployed people report that they have thought of harming themselves, which is four times more than reported by people with full-time work, according to the MHA study.