Facing the terrifying prospect of unemployment is a reality that many South Africans are unable to avoid these days. With high unemployment rates and the job market looking increasingly bleaker for first-time job seekers, the stage is set for the ever-escalating prevalence of depression among the unemployed. Unemployment and depression provide a daunting challenge for mental health professionals.
Unemployment and the accompanying economic worries place an enormous amount of physical and mental stress on the individual and those close to him or her. This can undoubtedly lead to the onset of a depressive episode. Unfortunately the relationship between depression and unemployment poses a unique problem – the more you can’t find employment, the more depressed you become, the less motivated you are to seek employment. And so continues the unending spiral downward to the dark feelings of despairs, loneliness, worthlessness and possibly even suicide. The situation may seem hopeless, however there are some practical coping techniques that may be helpful.
Martin Hugo, the founder of the new National Unemployment Support Group, found himself in the position that so many people fear – unemployed and depressed. The shock of suddenly finding himself unemployed led to a “period of deterioration” in his mental health that finally resulted in depression. The change in mood and the financial strain placed an enormous amount of strain on the relationship that Martin was involved in at that time. In fact, the breakdown of families and other important relationships is one of the greatest tragedies resulting from this situation. However, families and loved ones are one of the first areas where the unemployed can find help. Families that are educated about depression and the role that unemployment plays in this illness can provide the necessary support that an individual needs in order to overcome his/her depression. Boosting confidence and self-image go a long way in improving the depressed person’s chances of finding employment.
Families and loved ones can help the unemployed individual who is suffering from depression to obtain the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Trying to get the depressed family member involved in their life and activities will help to diminish feelings of loneliness and isolation. Being gently insistent is sometimes necessary, however, avoid pressurising the depressed person. Just being an attentive listener is what most depressed people are looking for. Encouragement is vital - not only will this help with the depression, but will also help an unemployed person not to lose hope in the face of many disappointments.
Both the National Depression and Anxiety Support Group and the Unemployment Support Group provide the education and information needed to help the unemployed and their families develop good coping mechanisms that they can make use of in stressful situations. Attending support group meetings and/or alternatively seeking psychotherapy, individually and together as a family is particularly important. Martin believes that it was his 3 months of therapy and his joining the Depression and Anxiety Support Group that allowed him to find “a new purpose to [his] life” and the desire to help empower the unemployed. Group coherence is a powerful weapon against the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that the unemployed and depressed experience, and these support groups are instrumental in providing that feeling of belonging and shared understanding.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group also undertakes corporate education initiatives, which allows the group to educate misinformed employers about depressive illnesses. Employers are often reluctant to employ those who suffer from depression because they fear that these employees will be less productive than non-depressive employees. Their fear is understandable, but misplaced. Education programmes that stress that depression is a treatable illness, with a high percentage of recovery are therefore extremely important.
Martin attended the recent Presidential Job Summitt, where statistics such as 4.1 million unemployed were revealed. The unemployed represent more than 30% of the population that are eligible to vote. These numbers may be disheartening, however Martin suggests that the unemployed need to realise that they share the same dilemma, and therefore should learn to share the resources that they have available, thereby mobilising themselves. He is currently working with unemployed youths, training them to develop business plans that can be successful in implementation. By empowering themselves in this way, the depressed and unemployed can find a new confidence in their abilities and possibly a profit making enterprise.
It is important that before considering going back into a working environment, depression sufferers have learnt their strengths and limitations. Being realistic is also very important. Create a clear picture of the kind of job that you will be capable of successfully achieving in your current phase of the illness - it is no use attempting to find a job that will only contribute to a worsening of your illness, if you can’t handle what is demanded of you. In other words, don’t expect too much of yourself. Seek out those support systems around you, such as self-help groups and family and friends, and use them as ongoing emotional support. Don’t be afraid to let your potential employer know that you are suffering from depression. This will prevent you from being hired by an employer that has a negative attitude toward depression. Be direct and positive in your approach, showing a potential employer that you have come to terms with your illness.
Overcoming depression and finding employment need not be an impossibility. With the help of advocacy groups like the Depression and Anxiety Support Group and the National Unemployment Support Group, the unemployed and depressed can successfully reintegrate themselves into the world of employment.
SELF-HELP FOR DEPRESSION
1. Don’t bottle things up: if you have some bad news or major upset, tell people close to you about it and how you feel.
2. Although you may want to be alone, you may feel better if you try to take part in some routine activities you previously enjoyed with your family and friends.
3. Increase positive contact. Try to make a list of small activities that can be done often during the day to show positive loving feelings.
4. Try to take it easy and don’t criticise yourself for not being able to do all of your usual activities. You will be able to resume all your old activities when the depression is gone.
5. Don’t expect too much from yourself right away. Feeling better takes time. Keep your expectations realistic. It is usually not possible to resolve an issue or change a long-life pattern overnight.
6. Avoid making any major decisions, such as changing jobs or ending a relationship until you are feeling better.
7. Maintain your daily routine as much as possible.
8. Keep occupied, e.g. reading a book, watching TV, pursuing a hobby, doing a jigsaw puzzle. While concentration may be difficult, it is possible to train yourself to increase the amount of time spent concentrating on something, simply by practice.
9. Exercise: Do something physical. Get out of doors, even if it is only for a walk. Any form of exercise, rigorous or gentle can have beneficial results. Walk the dog!
10. Diet is important. Under or over eating is a symptom of depression. It is essential to have a well balanced diet which prevents tiredness and feeling run down.
11. Relaxation: There are many methods of relaxation, E.g. exercises, audio tapes, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy,, massage etc. which are effective in allying anxiety and tension.
12. Read books. Books giving practical advice for sufferers can be useful.
13. Avoid “props” such as smoking, illicit drugs, dependency or alcohol. Alcohol in particular is a depressant and despite giving a temporary lift can worsen depression.
14. Remember, seeking treatment is a sign of strength, and is the first step to feeling better.