COVID-19 layoffs take a mental toll: ‘When you lose your job…you lose part of your identity’

Millions of Americans have applied for unemployment benefits for a fifth week in a row due to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 26 million Americans have filed for jobless aid and 1 out of 6 Americans have lost their jobs since mid-March. It is the worst series of layoffs in United States history.
More than 140,000 New Jersey residents filed unemployment claims last week. Unemployment payments are up 560% from a year ago. The state Department of Labor says that it has distributed $1 billion in benefits. But outdated technology and a backlog of claims mean that there are still thousands of New Jerseyans who are waiting for their claims to go through.
Mental health experts say that as unemployment numbers increase, so do concerns about mental health.
“For many people, their job and their profession is a major part of their identity. So, when you lose your job, for a lot of people, you lose a part of your identity, and that could lead to increased rates of depression, anxiety, panic attacks,” says Dr. Daniel Finch.
Finch is the director of psychiatric urgent care services at CarePlus New Jersey. He says that there can also be increased rates of substance abuse and suicide.
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According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, there will likely be a 3.3% increase in drug overdose deaths and a 0.99% increase in suicide. Frustrations with the unemployment system and other COVID-19-related stresses can make the situation even worse.
“Hopelessness is one of the first and most important warning signs. When you lose hope, you lose sight there is a future and that there is something new coming,” Finch says.
Finch says that changes in sleeping and eating habits, fatigue and a loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable things are other signs that it is time to get professional help. He also says that people should take care of their basic needs and remember to do things that make them happy.
“Pick up an old hobby or find a new one. There is still a place for enjoyment, fun and love and happiness – despite the crisis,” he says.
Finch says that telehealth is a great way to get help without leaving the home. He says that many medical practices will work with the patient despite their insurance situation.