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Job Loss Can Set Off Vicious Downward Spiral

Resulting depression can prevent people from finding new work

MONDAY, Oct. 7, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- It's pretty obvious to anyone who's been through it that getting laid off or fired is really hard.

A new study attempts to get at the reasons for it. Researchers found job loss can cause financial strain and feelings of a loss of personal control. That, in turn, can trigger a downward spiral of depression, decreased emotional functioning and reports of declining health.

Even worse, the depression and poor health can make it tougher to find another job. Not only does job loss and financial strain contribute to depression, but depression makes it harder to seek out new opportunities and land a new job.

"Thus, chains of adversity are clearly complex and may contain spirals of disadvantage that reduce the life chances of vulnerable individuals even further," wrote the researchers.

The study appears in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Researchers from University of Michigan interviewed 756 people from a variety of educational backgrounds who had recently involuntarily lost their jobs and were looking for a new one. Their average age was 36.

At the beginning of the study, participants rated their current and anticipated financial strain and answered questions designed to assess their levels of depression, feelings of personal control, health, and emotional functioning. They were asked the questions again six months later, when 60 percent had found new jobs and were working at least 20 hours a week, and again in two years, when 71 percent had found new jobs.

Even after two years, researchers found elevated levels of depression and reports of poor physical health.

"Results suggest that loss of personal control is a pathway through which economic adversity is transformed into chronic problems of poor health and impaired emotional functioning," the researchers wrote.

Jessica Schairer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in helping people cope with job loss, isn't surprised by the findings.

"It takes a lot of oomph to get out a look for a job," Schairer said. "You have to look very energetic and cheerful to get most jobs. It becomes part of your problem that you're upset."

And as was found with the study participants, her clients' problems don't magically disappear when they land a new job, she said.

"Just saying, 'You're hired, report on Monday' doesn't immediately cure everything," she said. "It doesn't cure the buildup of problems with your health. You don't regain your financial security immediately. You need time to replenish your savings and self-confidence."

The good news is most people eventually start to feel better, she said. Only a few -- those who were prone to depression before the job loss -- will continue to suffer from depression.

"People may go through a period of grief or mourning about losing their job, but then they start feeling better and their natural optimism reasserts itself," she said.

What To Do

There's no two ways about it: Losing a job is one of life's most stressful events. But it can also mean a chance to explore new career goals, said Schairer, contributing author to the book Finding Your Perfect Work.

Do you want to consider a career change or update in skills? Check out About.com for information on reassessing your career goals.

Consumer Debt Counseling has information about assessing your financial situation and coping financially with job loss without having to sell off the family heirlooms.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconcilation Act (COBRA) can help you protect your health care benefits in case of job loss.

SOURCES: Jessica Schairer, Ph.D., psychologist, Los Angeles; October 2002 Journal of Occupational Health Psychology
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