Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/28/2021
Job loss can be a blow to your self esteem and ego, but it can also do significant damage to your mood.
We’ve all seen what happens to people who lose a job, whether they’re fired or downsized, or let go for other reasons.
The reality is that while employers can call it anything they want, when you lose your job, it’s possible to experience signs of mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
Job loss depression is fairly common among those affected, and for obvious reasons. Your routine, identity and sense of self worth can all be affected — not to mention your financial security.
It can be easy to fall into depression when losing your job. Whether you or a family member are experiencing this, or whether you’re seeing signs in a friend or partner that something might not be right, it’s important to address depression before it becomes serious and established.
Read on to learn more about the signs of job-loss depression — along with what you can do to help heal.
First, it’s helpful to understand that depression is about more than just feeling “sad.”
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by down or negative thought patterns. It can take many forms, including seasonal affective disorder (winter depression) and it can likewise form different patterns, sometimes brief and intense, other times long lasting and chronic.
Depression’s causes aren’t fully understood, but we do know that it can be triggered by many things, including both internal (genetic) predispositions, and external triggers ranging from dreary weather to job loss.
Depression or even major depression can be a risk when it comes to displaced workers and job loss.
A meta-analysis showed that people who are unemployed are more than twice as likely to suffer from psychological problems vs. the employed, and more than a third of those examined (who were unemployed) had psychological problems.
It can be hard for some people to imagine developing depressive disorders just because they’ve been laid off or let go, but for many people, depression after job loss is actually a logical result.
Depression can be caused by any number of major life changes, and while we typically associate it with grief over the loss of a loved one, or the end of a relationship, job loss (as mentioned above) is a fairly common trigger for depression.
The American Psychological Association points to several reasons why this happens. Jobs, after all, provide structure along with pathways to goals.
Jobs can also offer social interactions and a social circle to add a degree of stability.
When you lose all of these things simultaneously — structure, identity, social interaction and a sense of purpose — it can cause major issues.
The APA says that depression as a result of job loss is most common for people who have an immediate threat to their survival. In other words, those who might not be able to afford food, shelter and other necessities are the most at risk for mental health issues following job loss.
According to hundreds of studies, unemployed people were typically in more distress, less satisfied, and more likely to report psychological problems than those who were employed.
Depression symptoms tend to be similar across all of its various forms, so whether your depression was triggered by downsizing or the passing of a loved one, you’re just as likely to experience exhaustion and anger, irritability and other “edgy” moods.
In addition to feelings of hopelessness, depression might even contribute to stomach issues and other physical health symptoms like aches and pains.
People who are depressed due to job loss may experience some of the following:
If you’re depressed, it can be easier to make rash decisions since your judgement might be impaired.
This may even include suicidal thoughts, as well as the tendency to turn to substance abuse to self medicate.
If you see reckless behavior in others, or start feeling that way yourself, seek the help of a healthcare provider immediately.
Gaining or losing weight rapidly can be a frequent symptom of depression in adults. It makes sense, too: When your routine is abruptly changed and money becomes tighter, you may eat more poorly, spend less time exercising and generally take worse care of yourself.
Losing a job can sometimes affect your confidence, which can cause some problems in the bedroom.
Decreased sex drive or reduced libido are both common experiences for a depressed person, whether they’re depressed due to job loss or any other trigger.
Anxiety might cause you to lay awake at night wondering how you’re going to foot your bills, but depression can also throw your circadian rhythms, causing you to experience hypersomnia or insomnia.
It’s a common depression symptom — and one made far worse if you suddenly have no need to set an alarm for yourself.
People who’ve lost jobs have been more likely to report distress and signs of psychological issues related to depression, but research has also found that job-loss depression can lead to less satisfaction in other elements of life.
It’s even the case for factors that once brought joy — like marriages and other relationships.
It’s true that depression due to job loss could be different from other types of depression, but the treatment is much the same.
Experts say that the best way to treat job-loss depression is to focus on the symptoms early — as immediately as possible
Another straightforward way to address depression after job loss is to begin destigmatizing unemployment for yourself. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the common thread is communication.
Things like skill development and job search programs are great ways to rebuild a temporary community, find new motivation and purpose, and discover some compassion for yourself and others suffering from the issues brought on by job loss.
How you treat depression from there will take one of several forms as guided by a mental health professional or healthcare provider.
They may address your symptoms with a variety of lifestyle or dietary changes, or prescribe one of two (or both) of the most effective depression treatments available today: medication and therapy.
Therapy can take a lot of forms, helping you to address negative feelings so you can learn to change the way you think and avoid spirals.
One of the most effective methods for this type of change is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is a system to change thought patterns and habits for the better.
There are many ways to do this, but online counseling might be the most convenient. A mental health professional might additionally suggest meditation practices or mindfulness, and might ask you to improve your diet and exercise.
Antidepressants, like unemployment, still carry a lot of stigma — and for no reason. After decades of proven effectiveness, the medical community knows that proper medication can help people manage the chemical imbalances that depression causes and thus help to rebalance moods.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants on the market, and you’ll likely be started with one via a mental health professional.
Whether you or a loved one has lost a job, the best time to treat symptoms of depression is before those depressive symptoms even manifest.
Sometimes people seem fine at first, but after a period of time, subsequent job-loss depression symptoms can emerge.
Talking about it can be difficult, too, particularly when the impact of job loss is causing financial strain. This of course can strain your emotional health and cause other adverse mental health effects.
Feelings of depression are best discussed with a mental health professional, but it’s also helpful to discuss with a close friend or family member.
Sometimes expressing your anxieties and just admitting that you're having a difficult time with the effects of job loss can greatly reduce your suffering — because it's not bottled up anymore.
Either way, it’s important for everyone to have both personal and professional support after a job loss.
Mental illness can get worse without treatment, and job seekers don't need extra hurdles, no matter the state of the economy.
If you’re experiencing depression related to job loss, know this: The sooner you take care of yourself, the sooner you’ll be back in the game. The right treatment and support can lead to better mental health outcomes.