How Unemployment Affects Mental and Physical Health

The impact of unemployment is not limited to finances. It also affects one's mental and physical health. This post tells you about the effects on unemployment on the physical and mental health of an individual.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
"The hardest work in the world is being out of work."
- Whitney M. Young
A researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health undertook the analysis of employment and health data of 8,125 individuals surveyed in 1999, 2001 and 2003 by the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics at the University of Michigan. It was found that employees who had lost a job for no fault of their own were twice as likely to develop ailments like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease over the next one and half years as compared to those who were employed throughout the period.

Unemployment affects both physical and mental health of an individual. Lack of confidence, a low self-esteem, and depression are among the commonly observed psychological effects of unemployment. Loss of a job or a prolonged period of unemployment can lead to the development of suicidal tendencies in some. Many times, getting a job becomes difficult due to problems like recession and economic slowdown. Not having a job leads to feelings of inferiority. The emotional problems worsen further, if one experiences gender bias, or age or racial discrimination in getting a job, or if he lacks the education or expertise to acquire it. Joblessness may lead to lack of funds, in turn causing family issues.
Effects of Unemployment on Physical Health
Eating Disorders
Man with tomato
Due to cost constraints, an unemployed person may not be able to afford quality food. Unhealthy or low-quality food may affect one's health. Being jobless results in an emotional void in one's life. To fill it, one tends to overeat and overeating leads to obesity. The emotional instability may also lead one to ignore eating. This may cause nutritional deficiencies, physical fatigue, and weakness. Thus, eating disorders can lead to excessive weight gain or abnormal weight loss, further affecting one's overall health.
Health Problems due to Lack of Activity
Fat man stomach
Being unemployed may leave one with no work to do. Lack of activity can lead to lethargy, and grave problems such as obesity. Complete absence of physical activity is an open invitation to obesity-induced disorders ranging from hormonal problems to heart disease. Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.
Intimacy Issues
Couple on bed
The stress induced by unemployment and the lethargy resulting from lack of physical activity, can lead to sexual health problems. One may experience physical intimacy issues or lose interest in sexual activity, in turn affecting one's relationship with his spouse or partner.
Headaches, Chest Pain, and Palpitations
Depressed man
Headaches are a common after-effect of stress. The disturbed state of mind may lead to palpitations and chest pain and also cause breathing difficulties.
Sleep Disorders
Man on bed
The constant worry of finding a job and managing one's monthly expenses can lead to disturbed sleep. Lack of physical fitness, added to the anxiety arising from joblessness, may lead to sleep disorders. Lethargy and lack of exercise robs one of sound sleep.
Substance Abuse
Man in toilet
To get over the frustration of unemployment, people resort to consumption of drugs and alcohol. It's a wrong notion that they help alleviate pain. They rather aggravate problems and worsen one's health condition. Alcoholism and indulgence in narcotics can have very serious and long-lasting effects on one's health.
Effects of Unemployment on Mental Health
Depression
Depressed man
Being unemployed generates feelings on hopelessness and guilt in one's mind. Seeing the careers of others flourish may lead to feelings of jealousy and add to the feeling of inferiority. A feeling of social rejection crops in, and coping with it gets difficult. Feeling like a failure results in depression.
Loneliness
Alone person
Unemployment leads an individual to withdraw from society and he tends to remain aloof from his social circle. He lacks the enthusiasm, and at times, the money too, to socialize. The guilt of being unemployed leads him to avoid friends and prefer being alone, secluded.
Stress
Unemployment comes with a lot of stress. The anxiety of finding a job and the guilt of not having one, add to mental stress. Unemployment not only affects one's professional standing but also alters his personal relationships. It may cause a rift in his marriage. The worry of managing expenses and providing for one's family, further adds to the stress.
Suicidal Thoughts
Man shooting himself
There is a social stigma attached with unemployment. Emotional instability and depression may lead one to have suicidal thoughts. In such times of distress, death may seem to be the only way out. The chances of this happening increase, especially when one has been insulted, made to feel inferior or has been unfairly dismissed from work. The chances of having suicidal thoughts increase if the job loss has led to a major setback in one's career. Negative thoughts like these should not be entertained, and a counselor's help should be sought immediately.
Low Self-esteem
After long years of work, a sudden setback of job loss is humiliating. The enjoyment and the sense of fulfillment that one derives from work is lost after losing a job. Again, not landing a new job causes one to lose his self-confidence. A long period of waiting leads to frustration and low self-esteem. For many, their job is their source of motivation. Not having one leaves them feeling demotivated.
Lack of Concentration
Stressed man
The constant worry of finding a job does not let one concentrate on things at hand. The increasing levels of frustration make it difficult to focus on the goal of finding a new job. Owing to stress, concentration levels drop. One tends to remain occupied with memories of the early years of his career or with fantasies of a good job. But ruminating the past never helps, nor does daydreaming; one must understand, and start exploring new opportunities.
Feelings of Worthlessness
Sitting at home, without a job in hand makes one feel worthless. For an individual whose motivators are professional milestones like promotions, added work responsibilities, and incentives, not having a job becomes equivalent to losing his purpose of life. This shatters his self-belief and confidence.
Being unemployed can have a deep impact on one's physical health and mental well-being. The family members of the unemployed should try to understand what he must be going through. Medical help should be sought if the need is felt. And one must not forget that unemployment is a problem that can be overcome. Sooner or later, a job can be acquired but deteriorated health and a lost mental balance may take years to restore. It's best to put time to good use and remain optimistic, always.