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Maintaining your mental health after being made redundant: tips from Priory Group experts

  • Large increase in unemployment predicted by economic forecasters

  • Losing a job can have similar effects on mental health to bereavement

  • Priory Group Consultant Psychiatrists offer advice for managing the anxiety and stress associated with redundancy

October the 10th is World Mental Health Day, and this year we must face up to the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Concerns are mounting about the economic damage caused by the virus, which has put everyone’s mental health under additional strain. Recent polling shows fears about the pandemic’s effect on the economy now outweigh fears about its health consequences.

Economic forecasters are predicting steep rises in unemployment, particularly if lockdown restrictions need to be tightened up again. If a person loses their job they can experience some of the same feelings and stresses that they would if they were seriously injured, going through a divorce, or mourning the loss of a loved one. They can go through some or all of the stages of grieving just as they would with any other major loss.

Dr Andrew Iles, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre, says that if you find yourself in this situation there are ways you can try to help yourself, and stresses the importance of seeking help if you are struggling with your mental health – specifically anxiety and self-doubt.

He says, “Knowing that we have a stable income and have our finances in a healthy state is important for general well-being. Money is one of the most significant themes when it comes to stress. Few people can tolerate strains on their financial position without feeling worry or concern.

“Feeling secure and well provided for is a basic human need and anything which seeks to undermine that is likely to cause us to feel worried, depressed and fearful.”

The impact on mental health goes further. “Many people might describe their job or career as a vocation, for example being a nurse or a teacher. However, jobs define us all, not just these familiar members of our society. They also provide structure, job satisfaction and self-fulfillment.

“Jobs make us feel that we have purpose. For those of us who have children, it is one way we perform our duty of being a role model. Losing one’s job can lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame, or the fear that other people might see us as unsuccessful.”

While feeling anxious or worried during a difficult time is natural, it becomes a problem when it stops a person going about their daily life, creating issues in their work and home lives. Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital explained; “While anxiety is a very normal and natural response to stress, and can actually enhance performance, excess levels become counter-productive and hinder one's ability to function properly.”

If anxiety issues are not dealt with, they can go on to cause more serious problems. Dr Bijlani said; “Ignoring extreme anxiety can lead to far worse consequences than even job loss, as severe anxiety can lead to depression and be more challenging to treat and manage.”

Anxiety can feel all-consuming, but Dr Bijlani says it is important to take time out from working and worrying, to do small things you enjoy; “Try and do something each day that brings you pleasure and helps you relax. Regular physical exercise, reading, listening to music, communicating with friends and family or pursuing a hobby can all improve one's sense of well-being.” She also advises reaching out to your GP or a mental health professional and investigating therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) if you feel mentally ‘swamped’.

Dr Iles warns that it is important to try to avoid isolation during periods of unemployment. “You might not be able to have the contact with others which you would usually enjoy, but utilise other means of staying in touch with loved ones and friends.

Try to keep your days and evenings separate. Build a routine where possible as this will break up the hours and give a sense of order. When we have structure, we know what the parameters and the rules are, and that decreases a sense of not knowing, which then decreases anxiety.

Maybe find an online exercise class, teach yourself a new skill, carve out specific times to touch base with friends and family, and eat meals at consistent times of day.

Avoid consuming more alcohol “as this might bring temporary relief but is likely to turn into additional problems further down the line”. He suggests if you or a family member realises you are drinking too much you should “try to get into the habit of having some days where you do not drink any alcohol at all”.

Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital, said job loss can feel devastating.

“Eat well, get outside, exercise, sleep well, spend time with your loved ones,” he says.

Guided meditation apps like Headspace and Calm can be accessed for free, and can be helpful in reducing any anxiety, sleep troubles, or stress that you might be feeling. Keep a regular routine.

Dr McLaren adds: “People need rhythm and pattern in their lives. Some of us need more pattern than others. We can feel stress when patterns are overrun and we have too much to do, but also when we have too little to do. We have an optimum level of activity and challenge. If we veer too far from that we feel stressed.

“Take a step back and think about the usual pattern of your life. How does it work when you’re at your most content? Break it down into its main elements and see if you can quantify them. You will need to be proactive and organise your time. Socialising through a video call will never be as powerful as meeting face to face, but it could produce some soothing. Replace your ‘work’ with networking and applying for any jobs, including part-time work or volunteering.”

Depending on the severity of your mental health condition and symptoms, as well as other needs, there are a number of treatments you can benefit from.

Outpatient therapy can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health concerns including depressionanxiety, and stress.

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