The number of employees on UK payrolls dropped by nearly 650,000 between March and June, latest figures from the Office of National Statistics have revealed.

Unemployment is expected to continue rising over the coming months as the coronavirus pandemic’s impact takes a stronger hold on the economy and the government’s furlough scheme comes to an end.

With these staggering figures it’s important not to forget that unemployment can have a major effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their financial situation.

Our member Simon Coombs, a counsellor and coach who supports unemployed people, says:

“When we’re fully invested in our jobs, it becomes more than just something to pay the bills. We put so much of ourselves into the work we do. It’s part of our identity. It’s linked to our own self-worth and sense of our self.  

“Being made redundant can have a critical effect on someone’s mental health.”

He describes how some people who’ve lost their jobs initially have a bit of a positive bounce.

“They may have more energy, greater clarity of thought. They sometimes feel exhilarated, especially if it’s a job they don’t enjoy and they’re just doing it to pay the bills.”

But he adds: “When it does start to kick people can go through different stages. There’s a cycle of loss, starting with denial and then moving on to anger.

“Some people are much like a ship floating around without an anchor. They have no direction. There’s uncertainty. That uncertainty feeds anxiety. They start to over-think; this creates fears. The self-doubt creeps in and the questioning about whether they’re good enough,” he says.

Family and friends may notice the person has become more emotional, withdrawn, irritable and short-tempered.

Simon, who runs Working Minds, a Torquay-based service that offers psychological support for unemployed people, says there are some key things to think about when it comes to reducing the impact of unemployment on people’s mental health.

Importance of closure

Simon stresses that it’s “absolutely critical” to get closure when someone loses their job.

But he’s worried this is something that a lot of people who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic will be missing.

“Without closure, redundancy can be an open wound that festers. It can be very debilitating to people’s mental health.

“Because of Covid-19 people can’t just meet up with a big group of colleagues in the pub or for a coffee to say goodbye. They’re being robbed of that important closure,” he says.

“Part of my role is to educate a person how important it is to get closure. Sometimes people may be too angry or they don’t want anything to do with their former colleagues as it’s too painful. But it’s crucial to do something for closure.

“It may be that when the dust has settled, people meet up for a coffee. They can talk and put some of the pain and anger to bed. If it’s left too long, it can really impact someone’s self-worth.”

Dehumanising job search

Simon warns that the process of hunting for a new job can be very dehumanising.

“It can be very process-led, very emotionless,” he says.

“People invest a lot of themselves in job applications only for them never to receive anything back.

“Or they only ever get an automated response. There’s no human element.”

He says he often witnesses the impact on this when people are sending out dozens of CVs with “scattergun approach” and not getting much back in return.

“I think that human element is something for employers and recruiters to think about,” he adds.

Positivity and validation

“People feel like they’ve been selected for redundancy and that they are in deficit, they naturally evaluate their own self-worth against other people who have not lost their jobs,” adds Simon.

As a counsellor he works with people to help them recover that self-worth.

He helps them with positive self-talk – shifting their internal dialogue to be more positive, optimistic and encouraging, rather than negative and filled with self-doubt.

“Re-framing and trying to see things as an opportunity can help,” he says.

Validation is also important, he says. It helps people accept themselves.

Counselling and coaching

Simon says his approach is a mix of counselling and coaching.

“As a counsellor I look at the emotional impact. It’s a key life event,” he says.

“This is about looking at their self-worth, the positive self-talk and the validation.”

He adds: “I allow them to experience their anxiety, to cope with it in the moment.”

Simon says he often talks to clients about how they can learn to ‘be in the moment’. Mindfulness can help with this, he suggests.

“With counselling, we look a bit deeper,” he adds. “What do they want to do and what to do they want from life? I help them to step away from that sense of rejection and towards that opportunity.”

Coaching, he says, is focussed on the practical side of things – and moving forward.

“We have to strike a balance between the emotional aspects and the practical side.”

“It gives the person a chance with the help of a bit of direction. It helps them to find a new anchor and to drop it in to find some stability.”

Getting counselling

If you’re struggling with your mental health and wellbeing because of unemployment, you can access free or low-cost counselling in a variety of ways – including through the NHS and from charities and voluntary services. Some private therapists offer a free initial assessment and possibly reduced costs for people on low income.

Find out how to find a therapist