Activity 5(h)

Activity 5h: The mental health impact of unemployment

  1. Redundancy refers to the loss of a job due to surplus labour (i.e. labour that is no longer needed) within businesses. Redundancy can contribute to mental breakdown because the newly unemployed person can lose their sense of self-worth/perception of value (to society or their family) and they may experience a feeling of social isolation.  These factors can create anxiety and lead to depression. This adds to stresses within households which, if not dealt with via some form of counselling or support, can ultimately result in family breakdown.
  2. Prolonged periods of unemployment and its associated links to mental illness can lead to unemployed persons needing an ‘escape’ to dull the pain they are experiencing. This can manifest in increased bouts of drinking alcohol and potential alcoholism and/or the consumption of other types of illicit substances (such as methamphetamines, cocaine and/or heroine)
  3. A person’s self-esteem can be tightly linked to their employment status. For example, working in a job that is valued by society (e.g. nurses, doctors, teachers, emergency service workers, tradesmen, etc.) provides people with the feeling that they are making a real contribution to society.  In addition, the earning of income that any form of work can generate will also provide people with a sense that they are contributing to their families (e.g. ‘putting food on the table’) and to society more generally (e.g. via the payment of taxes that helps to fund the provision of government services).
  4. Once a person’s self-esteem has been eroded by periods of unemployment it can lead to a cycle of continuing rejections by employers and ever increasing loss of self-esteem. Employers are typically attracted to applicants who are confident and demonstrate a real capacity to make a valuable contribution to their workplace.  Those applicants with a visible lack of self-esteem will be less likely to attract the interest of employers.
  5. Isolation from the workplace that stems from prolonged periods of unemployment will typically lead to a loss of skills in addition to the loss of self-esteem referred to in question 4. As the months roll on without employment, it increases the chances that employers will be suspicious about the quality of any job applicant.  Employers will typically wonder why the applicant has been unable to secure employment over the preceding months/years.  They are therefore more likely to be risk averse and offer the job to an alternative applicant who has had a more recent attachment to the workforce.
  6. This is a common misconception because the bulk of unemployed persons are genuinely unhappy to be without a job and are keen to (re)gain employment. They are therefore not a burden on taxpayers but merely a recipient of a type of ‘unemployment insurance’ that, in an advanced country like Australia, should be available to those people who are being made unemployed due to cyclical, structural, seasonal and other factors that are largely beyond their control.
  7. As discussed in the responses to question 2 and 3, unemployment can have debilitating effects on people.  They may have previously planned extensively for their future, part of which envisioned a lifetime of employment until retirement.  They may have seen this is their destiny. Periods of unemployment can create real doubt about their ability to realise their plan or vision and their destiny becomes uncertain. In this respect, unemployed persons may feel like they have ‘lost control of their destiny’.