It’s not unusual to develop feelings of depression after losing a job. A job loss can add a huge amount of stress to your life and damage your self-esteem. It can result in isolation and a loss of social interaction and support networks. Reducing feelings of depression after a job loss can start with adding structure to your days, reaching out to friends, and spending time on hobbies. Talking to a therapist can also be an important step in reducing feelings of depression.
Is Depression After Job Loss Normal?
Depression is very common following job loss. With no income coming in, those affected may be struggling to feed themselves and their families, manage health care expenses, afford school costs, and pay their rent or mortgage. With job loss, many social aspects of health are in jeopardy and, correspondingly, it’s only natural to develop reactive depression or feel sad as a result.1
Sadness vs. Depression After a Job Loss
It’s important to note the possible key differences between sadness and depression, as people may feel sad following job loss, but this may not necessarily be a diagnosable case of depression. Defining the differences between sadness and depression is key to learning how to recognize depression and to observe how depression can have a much more prolonged and severe impact.2
A person who just lost their job may feel sad for a few days or intermittently, but not on a persistent basis. A persistent low mood (for more than at least two weeks) is a sign of depression. Similarly, someone may feel sad but may not necessarily lose interest in activities they enjoy or experience impairment in their work search or their social lives, which are factors that are commonly associated with depression.
Moreover, if someone is feeling sad about their job loss, this may not directly translate into an increase or decrease in sleeping or eating, lack of motivation in trying to find a new job or take care of their needs and personal hygiene, or a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness, which are often the case with depression. Also, just because someone is sad does not automatically mean they will begin having thoughts about suicide or self harm or devise a plan for harming themselves.
Does Gender Impact Job Loss Depression?
Both men and women are commonly affected by depression after job loss, but the effect appears to be slightly greater in men. One suggested reason for this depression is because, in a traditional family, men may be the sole income earners and therefore tend to tie their self-worth and identity to their job, and so job loss can leave them feeling more vulnerable in terms of their self-esteem and their sense of self. However, in regions and cultures in which men and women are both employed to a similar extent and contribute equally to the household finances, the gender differences regarding depression following job loss are less stark.3
Rates of Depression After Job Loss by Age
One study observed that depressive symptoms were very common for older adults 55+ who were nearing retirement who lost their jobs and had a lower income; this effect of mood was not seen in high-grossing income individuals.4 One of the suggested reasons why job loss can be so devastating for older workers is because they may be nearing the end of their career and may have limited future job prospects, may feel stuck or in limbo financially as they may not yet qualify for government senior pensions to supplement their income, and they may encounter health issues for which they no longer have access to extended benefits.4
In addition, they may find that they are at the top of their pay scale given their breadth of experience, and so they may be overpassed for work opportunities compared to a more budget-friendly younger employee. They may also feel disgruntled about the loss of seniority that may come with job loss. And, because they are much later in their career, older workers may encounter heightened stress in relation to limitations in professional growth and development, wealth appreciation, and worries around achieving sufficient retirement funds or having to delay their retirement as a result.4
Job Loss Depression Symptoms
To be diagnosed with depression, a person must exhibit five or more symptoms during the same two-week period with either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure present.2
Interestingly, there may be specific signs of depression related to job loss that could manifest in various ways following termination, including:
- Loss of identity as so much of a person’s sense of self and self-esteem is tied up in their occupation4
- Loss of social support and feelings of isolation and loneliness due to no longer being able to connect with their colleagues, who may be important members of their personal network4
- High stress surrounding ongoing unemployment, being hired into poorly matched positions, and experiencing persistent financial and career difficulties, which can all lead to longer-term depressive symptoms4
- Lack of structure, routine, and consistency in their daily lives that comes with job loss can contribute to feelings of aimlessness, lack of control, and a lower life satisfaction5
- Feelings of guilt and perceived self-blame around doing something wrong that could have contributed to job loss7
These signs can be harder to spot in those with what is often referred to as high-functioning depression. For someone to be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must lead to functional impairments in terms of work, social, family, and/or other key areas of life.2,8
What Increases the Risk of Depression After Job Loss?
While job loss can be a stressful event by itself, there are a range of factors that could raise the risk that someone will become depressed, such as:5
- Experiencing a loss of life satisfaction
- Financial stress
- Experiencing other mental health issues, such as anxiety or stress
- Experiencing ongoing threats to job security and stability
- Being unemployed for 6+ months
- Challenges meeting daily needs, including shelter, food, and health care
- Feeling dissatisfied with personal relationships
- Having limited access to a social-assistance system where you live that provides medical and financial supports to those impacted by unemployment
- Living in a region where there are major income discrepancies between the general public, leading to feelings of resentment, despair, and hopelessness
11 Tips for Coping With Depression After Losing a Job
At a time like this when you’re experiencing emotional, psychological, and financial stressors, it is more important than ever to focus on your coping skills.7
Here are 11 tips for dealing with job loss depression:
1. Give Yourself Permission to Grieve
Allow yourself to experience your range of emotions surrounding your job loss. Losing your job can lead to many different feelings, like concern that you may not find another position in the near future that suits your skill set and abilities, feelings of embarrassment or shame, and more. Coming to terms with your feelings is an important first step towards improving your mental health.
Try to allow yourself to feel what you feel and think what you think in the moment and not try to hide behind a smile—it will be that much harder to resolve if you keep pushing these thoughts and emotions away. Sometimes allowing yourself to feel is necessary to be able to deal with the challenge head-on, and then you can turn your attention to moving forward.
2. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Try not to be self-critical—recognize other factors at play that contributed to your job loss. It’s sometimes only natural for someone to question whether something they said or did could have caused the job loss, however it’s important to note there are many aspects that could have led to your job loss that had nothing to do with you.
Try to consider alternative reasons why you may have been let go; make a note of these and reference them when needed. This step may help you keep your self esteem intact and enable you to minimize self-blame and negative self-talk.
3. Start a Gratitude Practice
Consider what you’re grateful for. As challenging as this may be right now, try to think about a few positives that may have come out of this difficult situation. For example, maybe you might now be able to focus on a career change you’ve always wanted to pursue, or maybe you are now more able to redefine your priorities and what is important in your life, or perhaps you are able to finally slow down and think about your future goals and develop a better work-life balance for your next position.
Maintaining a gratitude journal of some kind may enable you to push yourself to consider the bright side when everything feels so hard.
4. Reach Out to Your Support Network
You may feel ashamed to ask for help, but speaking to someone you trust and feel you can confide in can go a long way toward helping you cope better with your current stressors. Your social support may even be able to help you think of things from a different perspective, or quality time with them can be a helpful distraction for a little while.
Even if it’s brief, try to set up regular calls, video chats, or text conversations with your loved ones so you can get the emotional support you need on a consistent basis.
5. Spend Time Doing What You’re Passionate About
Immerse yourself in activities that are meaningful, important, and valuable to you. Keeping yourself active can help improve your mental health and allow you to focus on things you enjoy in life. You can even explore a new hobby or interest you haven’t attempted before but have always wanted to try. Alternatively, maybe there is a special cause you would like to volunteer for or get involved in. Find ways to make use of this newfound time that allows you to enhance your life.
Make a schedule of activities during the week and weekend so you make sure you are doing at least one enjoyable or meaningful activity each day.
6. Keep up a Daily Routine
Having a completely unstructured, open-ended day might only add to your stress, frustration, and low mood. Try to keep yourself occupied in positive ways to help you feel more in control of your life. By building up a schedule, this will help you create a stable and structured routine.
Focus on your lifestyle and habits: Get enough sleep, exercise, nutrition, and hydration to meet your needs and goals. Now is a great time to try to do a reset and consider how you will improve your lifestyle. Perhaps you would like to build a sleep routine into your life, exercise more to enhance your overall health, eat better, and drink more water. No matter what you’d like to work on, pick one area to begin with and just start. Once you start, you may find it is easier to build momentum and keep going.
7. Use Relaxation Strategies
Try to learn how to relax your body and mind as this may help you to better manage stress.
Some relaxation techniques you could try include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Repeating a mantra to yourself
- Visualizing your happy place
- Utilizing grounding techniques
8. Focus on Your Positive Qualities
Consider your strengths, abilities, skills, and positive qualities. Reminding yourself of what you like about yourself, what great things your close family and friends have said about you, and what excellent attributes you could bring to a new job may help you stay motivated while you continue looking for a new job.
Writing these positive attributes down may not only help you develop a list of strengths but can also be a helpful reference whenever you find you need to give yourself a mental or emotional boost.
9. Assess Your Marketable Skills
Assessment of your marketable skills may require a bit of research. A good place to start is an internet search of your most recent job to see how other companies describe the skill set they are looking for. Also review any related roles, as this can provide a fresh take on your job. A review of your performance evaluations and skills related to volunteer positions as well as any hobbies you are involved in might help identify skills more clearly.
What do your colleagues typically look to you for? Chances are these are where your strengths lie. A list of transferable skills can also get positive momentum behind a job search. Once you identify your skills the most important thing is to get clear on examples of how you objectively demonstrated the skill (think measurements, data, acquisitions, etc).
10. Don’t Have a Rejection Mindset Going Into Your Job Hunt
It can feel daunting to consider going into a job hunt after a job loss. However, it can help to critically examine your job experiences. What aspects of your previous jobs worked best for you? Which did not? In future interviews, what questions could you ask to get the best fit? Perhaps the issue was not your skills but whether the position or company was the best fit. You can become more acquainted with your strengths via an assessment. Sometimes you can give yourself an emotional lift by striking a power pose or giving yourself a “high five”, both of these strategies are linked to the ways that a positive posture can improve your mood.
11. Focus on What You Can Control
There’s many things surrounding job loss that you can’t control, including being hired for your next job. Right now, focus on what you do have control over, which might be updating your cover letter and resume, tracking positions you’ve applied for and the outcome, preparing for interviews, crafting an interview outfit that helps you feel confident and put-together, getting your references in order, networking with professionals in the same field, taking online classes to improve your skills, possibly start a new business venture you’ve always wanted to test out, and anything else you can think of that might help build your confidence as you get back out into the workforce.
Make some notes about which of these proactive tasks you would like to start with as you try to move your career forward. Begin with your highest priority goals, break them down to smaller steps, and start with the first one. You might find that things start to flow more easily from there.
If it helps, use a journal to make note of which of the above coping tips and strategies you’ve tried: what’s worked well and what hasn’t. By using a range of coping tools, you may find that the impact of the job loss on your daily life may not be as severe as it otherwise could be and that your mental health might recover more quickly.
When to Seek Professional Help for Depression After Job Loss
Seeking out help for your depression early on can give you a greater sense of control over your life and enable you to handle your stressors more effectively. Through effective therapy for depression, you may be able to proactively deal with your low mood shortly after it starts, which can ultimately stabilize your emotional well-being as you navigate this stressful time in your life. It’s important to get help as soon as possible after noticing symptoms of depression.
If your depression goes unmanaged for weeks or months or perhaps even longer, it can become harder to motivate yourself, cope with your emotions, and deal with other health issues or other challenges that may stem from your depression (like substance misuse, social isolation, relationship issues). Ultimately, if your depression is not treated, it could potentially lead to a mental-health crisis where you feel you are at risk of harming yourself or others, particularly if you are starting to have any thoughts about hurting yourself or another person. In these types of situations, you need to go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.8
How to Get a Depression Diagnosis
If you suspect that your sadness over job loss is not going away after two weeks, getting worse, or causing you to feel despondent and unable to look for new employment, consider a screening from your primary care physician. You may then be referred to a psychiatrist or therapist for a full psychosocial assessment. While there are numerous screening tools, a clinical interview is helpful to rule out or identify other concerns that may be impacting your mood.
Treatment for Depression
A good first step is to speak with your primary-care physician about treating your depression. Your physician can decide with you whether it makes sense to explore antidepressant medication, a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or some other type of intervention. Given your family doctor is your primary provider, it’s important they be aware of your concerns so they can work with you to figure out how they can best help you.8
How to Find a Therapist
Choosing a therapist can feel overwhelming, but there are lots of options. A great place to start is an online therapist directory, where you can search for a professional near you who specializes in depression. Finding a mental-health professional who is supportive, non-judgmental, helps you with problem-solving, assists you in identifying your strengths, and supports you with improving your coping skills can enable you to better manage your mental health.
Chronic and unremitting depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. Being aware of risk factors and signs to watch out for is critical to preventing suicide. High alcohol or substance use and social isolation are risk factors for suicide, whereas community involvement and regular physical activity are protective factors. Be aware of how your coping methods can be helping or hurting your mood. It may be wise to create a crisis plan and identify coping skills, trusted persons to call, and a plan for emergencies to ensure that you successfully navigate this difficult time.
How to Help a Loved One Experiencing Job Loss & Depression
It can be difficult to see a loved one struggle with depression. As a family member, friend, or colleague of someone who is depressed, you can play a vital role in helping them learn how to cope. Stay in touch with them on a consistent basis, listen to their concerns and worries, be non-judgmental, patient, and compassionate, ask how you can help, and give them suggestions for where they can get assistance from a professional if they are open to it.
Monitor them for possible suicidal thoughts or behavior or self-harm behavior, and support them in a practical way (e.g., help with childcare, make them some meals, spend quality time with them, help with grocery shopping or other important tasks, or go with them to medical appointments if they need moral support). Helping a loved one may also include something as simple as engaging them in a fun activity to give them a momentary, enjoyable distraction.8
What may be less helpful is judging or blaming them for their mental illness, minimizing the impact of depressive symptoms, not engaging with them, not offering help and support, giving unsolicited advice, and not taking their concerns seriously.8 It also is important to not let your own emotional well-being deteriorate while you’re trying to help your loved one; you need to put healthy boundaries in place so you can stay strong mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to help someone else and to model strong coping skills. You also unfortunately can’t make your loved one’s depression go away but you can be by their side while they try to recover from this mental health illness.9