Long-term unemployment and other major stressful situations can lead to psychological dysfunction and despair.
Studies have shown that “financial strain and loss of personal control lead to depression, impaired functioning and poor health.” The financial issues and loss of control can be caused by unemployment, so job loss can inadvertently cause some mental disorders and psychological and physical issues.
Even after getting another job, there are long-lasting effects due to the initial unemployment. The study said that “this chain of adversity appears stable over a 2-year period, suggesting that even reversible life events such as job loss can have lasting effects on those who experience them.”
The idea that only those who have mental disorders are more prone to losing a job and then suffer more psychological effects is challenged by Richard Price, who also conducted the previous study.
In his introduction, Price said that this idea was challenged by looking at people “who had lost their jobs as a result of mass layoffs and plant closings.” He said that “these people were unlikely to have become unemployed because of mental health problems.”
The people in that study were also found to have more anxiety and depression symptoms than employed persons. They were also three times more likely to “show extreme scores on mental health symptoms” than people with stable jobs.
Since there is evidence for unemployment causing mental disorders in some way, one might wonder what types of mental disorders are possible. The obvious ones are forms of anxiety and depression. However, obsessive compulsive disorder, a form of an anxiety disorder, could be a likely candidate.
Obsessive compulsive disorder, however, is generally thought to have more biological and early environmental causes. In an abnormal psychology textbook, it said that “someone must develop anxiety focused on the possibility of having additional intrusive thoughts.”
People with OCD might become anxious because they have intrusive thoughts, and one guess as to why is that “early experiences taught them that some thoughts are dangerous and unacceptable because the terrible things they are thinking might happen and they would be responsible.”
The anxiety associated with intrusive thoughts leads some people with OCD to suppress the behavior by engaging in certain behaviors, thoughts and activities, known as compulsions. However, the compulsions don’t necessarily lead to a decrease in the obsessions, and anxiety doesn’t always disappear. This of course leads to the dysfunction of the individual.
Jeff Szymanski, the executive director of the International OCD Foundation, said that unemployment doesn’t necessarily cause OCD. “It’s not so much that you develop OCD, but if you have OCD, it absolutely exacerbates it,” he said. “It isn’t just the stress of being unemployed, because general stressors will increase OCD symptoms.”
He said that people with OCD need to be active and involved in structured activities. “If you’re not working, you have all this time you have to fill up, but if you don’t, OCD symptoms creep back in and get much worse actually,” Szymanski said.
With free time on their hands, OCD sufferers have the chance of developing new symptoms or compulsions. “As they start to think about ‘How am I going to pay my bills?’ and ‘This interview needs to go well,’ they might start to…develop new kinds of symptoms,” he said. People with OCD do have a chance of losing their jobs and can suffer from unemployment in that way.
“By definition, OCD symptoms have to be time-consuming, and by definition they have to cause some sort of impairment,” Szymanski said. “OCD left untreated typically gets worse over time.” This time-consuming disorder can obviously cause problems at work, and compulsions can worsen when left untreated, leading to a possible job loss.
The Americans with Disabilities Act covers OCD, Szymanski said, so employers can’t fire employees just because they have OCD. Employers and employees must work together to overcome the problems associated with OCD. Sometimes, though, employees have to weight the pros and cons of telling employers that they have OCD before and after the hiring process.
On average, symptom reduction can occur within the first three months of proper treatment, so there is hope with therapy and medication.
“Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach” by David Barlow and Mark Durand