GUEST COMMENT: Is unemployment getting you down, or is being down getting you unemployed?

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It's well known that unemployment is one of the most severely negative life experiences. The jobless don't just score lower on happiness, they are much more likely to suffer from clinical depression, abuse substances like alcohol, suffer from serious mental disorders requiring hospital admission, and even attempt suicide.

So far so gloomy.

Jobs play a fundamental role in our sense of well-being not just in terms of financial remuneration, but also in giving us goals, a collegiate community we can connect with, and making us feel we are needed.

To lose a job means losing much more than just a pay packet - though that is bad enough. Indeed some psychologists now argue that the key reason losing a job makes us feel so bad is much less to do with the change in economic circumstances forced upon us and much more to do with the dramatic loss in psychological resources that jobs represent.

Given all this common sense, it may come as a shock that psychologists are increasingly interested in a dramatically different idea about the link between low mood and unemployment.

Depression contributes to joblessness

The new thinking is that while losing a job almost certainly causes low mood, it may also be that depression contributes to being jobless. While most of us believe that unemployment lowers our mood, it could therefore also be the other way round - low mood makes you more likely to end up unemployed and remain jobless for longer.

This has profound implications for how those searching for work should consider approaching the task. It means that we may have to pay more attention to our mental state, our self-esteem and our mood; working on improving these appears to result in a direct way on refining our job search strategies and result in dramatically different prospects.

Psychologists Craig Crossley and Jeffrey Stanton at Bowling Green University in Syracuse USA recently published a fascinating study in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour which involved measuring mood in a large sample of young people about to leave University and enter the job market, and then gauging how well they had done in finding work several months later.

The startling result was that suffering graduates suffering from lower mood were considerably less successful at finding work.

Those who were happier in disposition tended to experience more interview success, search for jobs more effectively and intensely.

Don't get bogged down

Crossley and Stanton point out that that searching for jobs usually competes with other burdens, like family duties. These are likely to become more onerous as you are unable, for example, to pay for the assistance you may have previously had with child care, or have to change your accommodation as you downsize.

Given all this stress, job hunting performance is likely to deteriorate if you are generally feeling disheartened. In your depressed state you may understandably decide to prioritise other parts of your life. This helps avoid the self-esteem sapping challenge of confronting your employment status.

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist who has worked at numerous prestigious institutions in psychiatry including The Bethlem Royal and Maudsley NHS Hospitals Trust in London and the Institute of Psychiatry plus the Institute of Neurology, University of London as well as Johns Hopkins Hospital in the USA, which are the leading teaching, research and clinical institutions in psychiatry in Europe and the USA. Click here to visit his site.

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