How to Support Clients With Job Loss Depression & Stress

Job loss depressionWhen you meet someone for the first time, they will ask your name.

The next question is likely to be about what you do for a living.

This highlights the importance we place on work as an identifier within society.

What if you have no job to describe? You may feel awkward, embarrassed, and even ashamed, especially if you have recently encountered job loss. Work makes us feel whole and forms a large part of our identity and life (Gallo et al., 2005).

This article will explain the psychosocial factors associated with job loss and correlated depression.

If you are working with clients who have experienced these difficulties, you will learn how to counsel them and help them cope with the emotional symptoms that are a consequence of unemployment.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free. These science-based exercises will equip your clients with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in their life.

What Are Unemployment Stress & Job Loss Grief?

While some lucky few – who don’t face any material deprivation – may avoid a decrease in life satisfaction after unemployment (Luo, 2020), most unemployed people will experience varying degrees of stress (Pappas, 2020). The levels of stress depend on many factors, including the availability of psychological resources and perception of employability (Climent-Rodríguez, Navarro-Abal, López-López, Gómez-Salgado, & García, 2019).

The model of grief by Kubler-Ross (1969) can help us understand why people experience unemployment loss, as this experience often resembles grief. This working model can explain the psychological and emotional consequences of job loss. This theory views the grief stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They do not necessarily occur in this order.

Job loss grief can apply to the psychological or psychosocial processes that arise from loss or change experienced by a person (Afonso & Poeschl, 2006). Job loss can lead to adverse reactions, manifesting as despair, anger, guilt, and dysfunction (Shear, Ghesquiere, & Glickman, 2013).

The loss of employment requires a significant adjustment in personal, social, and family domains (Afonso & Poeschl, 2006). Like any other bond formed emotionally over time, it holds a strong familiarity with mourning the loss of a loved one (Karsten & Moser, 2009).

The attitudes and motivation of people who are unemployed are often influenced by several internal psychosocial factors (negative beliefs and attitudes). These factors act negatively to decrease their chances of finding a job (Climent-Rodriguez et al., 2019) and increase unemployment stress (Rafi, Mamun, Hsan, Hossain, & Gozal, 2019).

Grief reactions to job loss are distinctly different from experiences of depression and anxiety (Papa & Maitoza, 2013). Of course, there are individual differences in the grief associated with losing work. Employees who have been at companies for a long time, have dependents, and did not foresee unemployment are likely to experience more profound job loss grief (Brewington, Nassar-McMillan, Flowers, & Furr, 2004).

Can Job Loss Lead to Depression, Anxiety, & Trauma?

Job loss and depressionResearchers have been looking at the impact of unemployment on mental health since at least the Great Depression of the 1930s (McKee-Ryan, Song, Wanberg, & Kinicki, 2005).

There has been considerable research on the impact of job loss on mental health and wellbeing since then.

An example of a very early reference to the impact of job loss upon mental health is in a review paper by Eisenberg and Lazarsfeld (1938). They concluded that unemployment affects our personality, leads to increased instability, and lowers morale.

So let us now examine some of the research data on job loss and how it affects mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation (2021) has warned that rising unemployment and job uncertainty have profoundly affected people’s mental health and wellbeing. At least 70% of UK adults feel unemployment or job loss has had a negative impact on their mental health. Another 45% of UK adults associated unemployment or job loss with feeling a loss, and 25% with feeling traumatized.

Increased job insecurity also increased the risk of depressive symptoms, and unemployment negatively affected self-esteem and increased feelings of distress.

Unemployed people tend to have higher levels of impaired mental health, including depression, anxiety, and stress (Paul, Geithner, & Moser, 2009). Some studies have shown that higher levels of depression and unemployment are correlated and that higher levels of depression directly result from being unemployed (Bolton & Oatley, 1987).

Montgomery, Cook, Bartley, and Wadsworth (1999) found that people who have been recently unemployed had a greater risk of depression and anxiety than those who had not.

The relationship between unemployment and mental health is not straightforward. Many variables mediate the relationship, such as gender, marital status, and occupational social class. It also seems that unemployed men experience higher mental health problems than women (Strandh, Hammarström, Nilsson, Nordenmark, & Russel, 2013).

One tentative hypothesis is that men may perceive they have more responsibility for the financial running of the household, although this notion has changed considerably in today’s modern society.

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These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in their life.

How to Perform Unemployment Counseling

By now, you will understand how unemployment can significantly affect mental health. So if your client’s self-esteem and confidence have spiraled downward, then unemployment counseling may be able to benefit them.

The following steps will prove beneficial when considering the structure of unemployment counseling for your clients.

1. Charging a fee

Consider charging a smaller fee or even allowing for some concessions. Most clients will not be in a financially secure position and may have little or no access to financial resources. Clients will not wish to attend more than the first session if your fees are too high.

2. Increasing self-esteem and confidence

Unemployment brings with it poor self-esteem and self-confidence. This often contributes to poor social skills (Mental Health Foundation, 2021). A study that examined factors that promoted and hindered success in finding a job found a predominant barrier to be weak social skills (Borgen & Maglio, 2007).

Encourage your clients to maximize their interaction opportunities with others by taking on voluntary work or taking part in free sporting activities. These will encourage the development and maintenance of good social skills.

3. Assessing employability skills

It is essential to assess your client’s marketable job skills, as many clients will feel stuck at this point.

Ask your client to look at their hard skills (certifications, languages, computer literacy, driver’s license) and soft skills (analytical thinking, verbal and written communication, and leadership). Request them to hone in and give you concrete examples of these skills and what they have mastered precisely.

Next, ask how they have applied the skills in their previous work, resolved conflict with other workers, and adapted to unexpected changes. They may be asked to give examples of these activities in forthcoming job interviews, so it is a good idea to go through this exercise.

Administering an aptitude or personality test to focus on their cognitive abilities, personality traits, working style, and skill set can be useful. This will help them match their strengths to the right job.

Support your clients in creating a dynamic resume for them. They may not have put one together for years. Assist them with basic structure, grammar, and spelling, and refer to online resources for writing and coaching. Show them how to stand out from the crowd, highlight their skills, and customize their resume for each job they apply to.

Modern technology has taken the standard resume to another level with some companies requesting video resumes. Online sources offer tips on video production (Jencius & Rainey, 2009). You may wish to work through presentation skills with your clients, such as their facial expressions, pace, pitch and volume of speech, and general content.

4. Promoting active problem-solving skills

Excellent problem-solving skills (analyzing situations, researching, decision-making, creativity) can be valuable in seeking and obtaining employment (Dench, Perryman, & Giles, 1998).

The following are examples of active problem-solving with a constructive aim, and you should encourage your clients to do these.

  • Actively searching for work
  • Researching plans for a new business
  • Commencing a new course or class to learn new skills
  • Structuring daily life to imitate the working day
  • Networking with others to help find work

5. Seeking social support

Encourage your clients to seek social support networks. These may include friends, family, neighbors, past coworkers, and anyone else who can provide mutual comfort and assistance.

Social support for people who are unemployed is beneficial, as it makes them feel less isolated. It can also motivate them to seek work, as support networks can encourage and provide a good source of ideas and information about vacancies.

6. Promoting multiple job search behavior strategies

Make your clients aware of the different job search strategies. Job sources can be formal or informal (Saks, 2006).

Formal sources include job postings in newspapers or magazines, online job sites, employment agencies, career placement centers, job fairs, and formal networking events. Informal sources include family, relatives, friends, networks, and previous colleagues who provide leads (Saks, 2006).

The internet is convenient and accessible for worldwide opportunities. Unfortunately, many jobseekers assume that posting their resumes, completing online applications, and waiting for a response is all that is required of them (Mariani, 2003). They may be disheartened if they only work this way, for they are likely to get few responses back. Using multiple job search strategies fully maximizes the effectiveness of a search (Mariani, 2003).

Social networking sites like LinkedIn are proactive rather than passive. Clients can create a professional identity; convey education, experience, and professional goals; and promote and market themselves. So direct them along this avenue as well.

7. Recognizing your clients’ job search stages

Unemployment counselors need to recognize that several stages occur throughout the jobseeking process. Recognizing these stages will allow you to support your clients throughout the jobseeking process each step of the way.


At this point, your client starts the job search with enthusiasm. This stage is marked by optimism in finding a challenging and interesting job.


The initial enthusiasm wanes due to a lack of progress. After submitting numerous applications, the jobseeker does not get any feedback. Anxiety and concerns begin to creep in.


Your client becomes frustrated, and the job search slows down considerably.


Hopelessness and depression set in. Individuals may completely disengage from the jobseeking process.

Coping With Job Loss: 5 Techniques

Coping with job lossImmediately after losing a job, your clients may struggle with their feelings and the lack of certainty.

They will have many things to juggle. They may be worried about paying their finances, lack of healthcare, finding a new job, and managing their loss of daily routine. Your clients must have good coping skills.

The following are five techniques to help them manage this difficult time.

1. Allow time to grieve

Losing a professional identity, daily routine, purpose in life, work-based network, and sense of financial security will be a dent in your client’s self-esteem and confidence. Allow them to understand they will experience a sense of bereavement.

2. Establish a daily routine

It is essential to give the day a beginning, middle, and end with meaningful and fulfilling activities throughout. Tell your clients to treat their day as if they are still in a job, with scheduled slots for different tasks, breaks, and lunch.

3. Look after yourself

To help your clients create that happy feeling once again, encourage the release of endorphins from exercise (Harber & Sutton, 1984).

Encourage your clients to try yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques as powerful antidotes to stress (Breedvelt et al., 2019).

4. Reflect

Ask your clients to write about their feelings. This can be cathartic. Maybe you can help them see how every cloud has a silver lining and how this phase in their life may be an opportunity to rethink their life and career.

5. Start a new hobby

This can be fun and will make good use of your client’s free time. It will distract them from negative thoughts.

Supporting Clients With Emotional Stress

We have described the experiences of grief, anxiety, depression, and trauma with job loss earlier in this article. Clients who are emotionally vulnerable at this time need help. Here are helpful strategies that can be used to deal with an emotional setback.

  1. Mindfulness is being intentionally conscious, aware, and attentive in the present (Jacobs & Blustein, 2008). Use mindfulness techniques when your clients become stuck with their anxiety about job loss. If a client becomes stuck at the stagnation or the frustration stage, refer them to mindfulness.
  2. Teaching coping strategies through yoga and meditation is beneficial. Clients can be taught to cope with their anxious thoughts with awareness and acceptance (Woodyard, 2011). This can help enhance overall wellbeing and quality of life and enable the client to remain focused and more positive in their job search goals. Clients can be guided to the best resources and classes available.
  3. Solution-focused methods, like role-play for interviews and implementing action plans for job searching, can help motivate clients who have self-defeating beliefs and ideas (Moorhouse & Caltabiano, 2007).
  4. Teach your clients how to use visual imagery techniques. This method involves imagined action to resemble the cognitive representation underlying the actual activity (Holmes & Collins, 2001). Imagery can even be used in work contexts (Neck & Manz, 1992).

Imagining success in a job interview could help clients perform better. They can imagine shaking hands with the interviewer and providing poised and compelling answers to questions. Visualization can help clients feel more confident. They should also visualize the interviewer nodding in response and giving positive feedback at the end.

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Helpful Resources From

We also have several resources to help your clients overcome negative aspects of their unemployment experience and assist them in entering the world of work with a positive view once again.

Grief & Bereavement Exercises

There are 17 Grief and Bereavement Exercises that may be purchased to use in your client sessions. These are science-based techniques that can support your clients through the job loss bereavement process to make sense of what has happened to them and help them move on to new beginnings.

These exercises can also be used with any of your other clients who experience grief, bereavement, and loss. The loss of a long-term attachment, whatever it may be, can cause grief-like experiences.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Looking for positivity in a difficult situation is not always easy. Looking for the silver lining after job loss can restore balance and bring some hope to a bad situation. This is a free tool to use with clients. It will help them to find the bright side in a difficult part of their life.

This resilience-promoting intervention allows the client to replace fixed mindset thinking with growth mindset thinking. This exercise, when repeated again and again, can enable the client to more easily find the positive silver lining in situations.

My ‘Love Letter’ to Myself

This free self-esteem tool allows clients to strengthen their self-image by building their self-esteem and resilience. This exercise helps clients recognize and consider their strengths, abilities, and talents, and improve their confidence while looking for work.

The thought exercise

This free exercise can increase your client’s hope through planning, pursuing, and meeting goals. The exercise presents several statements that explore the theme of hope and help clients cultivate optimistic thoughts.

17 Stress & Burnout Prevention Tools

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others manage stress without spending hours on research and session prep, check out this collection of 17 validated stress management tools for practitioners. Use them to help others manage stress and create more balance in their lives.

A Take-Home Message

When individuals lose their job, they may also lose their source of income, personal work relationships, a routine and structure to their day, and a sense of purpose. It can almost feel like someone has stripped them of their whole identity overnight. They may perceive that life no longer has meaning and that they are no longer useful.

Losing a job is a major life event, just like a serious injury, divorce, or loss of a loved one (Holmes & Rahe, 1967). A person who is suddenly jobless can go through all or some grieving stages, similar to any other loss (Shear et al., 2013). The feelings can carry on and on, like an emotional rollercoaster of anxiety, depression, and trauma (Breslin & Mustard, 2003).

It is pertinent for individuals to be provided with unemployment counseling during such a vulnerable time in their life. They need guidance to present themselves in an interview and secure employment, allowing them to feel included and valuable once again.

We hope you have found this article valuable if you work with clients who have experienced job loss, recognize their journey, and wish to help them further. Don’t forget to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free.


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