Addiction, Mental Health and Unemployment

The COVD-19 pandemic has gravely impacted our mental health and addiction due to unemployment in more ways than one. The majority of individuals are anxious about the unknown, and millions of hard-working Americans are experiencing a financial crisis after losing their jobs. We are not only mandated to stay home, but we are mandated to remain home while trying to cope with economic adversity after being laid-off. Unemployment negatively affects our mental and emotional health. Unemployment has the potential to lead to addiction or worsen an already present substance use disorder.

 

Beyond the negative impact of an economic disaster, COVID-19 presents additional challenges such as fear of the virus itself, collective grief, prolonged physical distancing, and associated social isolation that will all compound the impact on our collective psyche. A job is not just a job for many individuals. Many individuals take pride in how they make a living, and their career becomes a part of whom they are; it becomes their identity. So when this is stripped away, an individual’s identity is also robbed.

 

The true meaning of work

Our jobs provide a sense of security and offer connection to peers, meaning, purpose, sense of accomplishment, and self-efficacy. When our jobs are stripped away, so are many of these traits.

 

Nearly 21 million Americans have lost their jobs over the past eight weeks because of COVID-19. The unemployment rate is above 15 percent, well above the unemployment rate during the Great Depression. 

 

Humans are not robots, we are individuals with needs, feelings, and emotions, and therefore the loss of a job is not just the elimination of a paycheck but also the loss of a routine, security, and connection to others (and not to mention, access to healthcare).

 

The link between unemployment and suicide

Studies have shown that unemployment is highly linked to suicide, and unemployment during this COVID-19 pandemic is no different. Our country and the world are at an increased risk for suicides, no matter how you see it. Unfortunately, many Americans who are now unemployed are now uninsured and, as a result, are unable to afford mental health treatment. It is a lose-lose situation.

 

In 2008, the Great Recession ushered in a 13 percent increase in suicides attributable to unemployment, with over 46,000 lives lost due to unemployment and income inequality in that year alone.

Everyone is at risk

This economy crash affects everyone, regardless of his or her job or income. Layoffs have occurred across the board from blue-collar workers and health care professionals to white-collar executives. Budget cuts are being made in nearly every industry because of the doomed economy. Many small businesses have been forced to shut their doors, leaving employees and business owners struggling to pay the bills. Regardless of employment status, bills need to be paid, and mouths need to be fed.

 

 

The economic stimulus and unemployment benefits have been a godsend for many, but how long will the government be willing to help those 21 million unemployed and unable to find work?

 

This pandemic has created a mental health and financial crisis. Many highly educated and highly skilled individuals are unable to find jobs because the economy is closed. Very few sectors are hiring, so the only option is to keep searching and waiting this out…but for how long?

Turning to alcohol as a crutch

Daily drinking, regardless of employment, has made a steady rise during this global pandemic. Those who have lost their jobs often turn to alcohol or drug use to numb their pain, block out their reality, and find a quick escape. Access to alcohol is easier than ever, as almost every business is now offering take-out or delivery. Cocktails “to go” can be ordered via phone and picked up via curbside or delivered to your front door, and liquor stores and dispensaries are delivering alcohol and marijuana at the click of a button.

More people are saying cheers with a drink in hand over virtual happy hours. It’s nearly impossible to scroll through social media without coming across the trendy drink term “quarantini”. Many people have posted phrases such as “days are divided by coffee hours and alcohol hours” or “during a crisis, you know, cocktail hour can be almost any hour”. Many of these phrases and trends are meant to be funny, but when daily drinking becomes a habit, it can suddenly down spiral into an addiction, which is never a laughing matter. Alcohol should never be used as an emotional crutch as drinking can worsen an already underlying depression or suicidal ideation.

 

Stress, isolation, and boredom increase the need to use

The increase in alcohol and drug use may be related to boredom, isolation, and stress, especially for those who have lost their employment. Job loss can create a sense of boredom, loneliness, and low-self esteem, which can all trigger the need to use. For those in recovery, the combination of financial distress and social distancing can make maintaining sobriety all the more challenging. As a result it relapse rates can be on the steep incline.

 

It seems that those who are unable to maintain social bonds and a sense of community through virtual interactions are more at risk for drug use and relapse. For individuals who have adopted harm reduction techniques are now using drugs alone instead of with a friend. If an overdose occurs, there is nobody around to administer the life-saving drug naloxone. First responders are finding people alone in their homes, dead due to overdose.

 

A report released at the beginning of May by the Well Being Trust predicted that up to 75,000 Americans could die due to drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of COVID-19.

 

Isolation and depression

Mental health experts have argued as far back as the Great Depression that unemployment damages mental health and undermines society’s social fabric. Involuntary joblessness can elicit feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

 

“Who are we if we cannot take care of our families and ourselves?”

“Who are we if we cannot put food on the table?”

 

Individuals who suffer unintended job loss are less likely to socialize with their friends and family because they feel ashamed or embarrassed, leading to isolation, which leads to depression, and more isolation. It is hard for many to socialize with friends who are gainfully employed when one is struggling to find any job leads, especially during this pandemic.

 

The economic impact of depression

The World Health Organization has noted that depression and anxiety have an estimated cost to the global economy of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. A likely surge of people experiencing acute behavioral health problems, both those with new symptoms and those with existing conditions, has the potential to strain the healthcare system further and add cost to an already unprecedented economic downturn.

 

 

Staying strong during this time

We must remember that this is not our fault. We cannot blame ourselves for this financial crisis that has occurred because of COVID-19. We cannot blame ourselves for being laid-off. We also must safeguard our mental health in every way possible. Therapy and social connections are imperative for our mental health, but when we are out of work and are mandated to isolate, what other options do we have? For addiction reading about staying strong during this pandemic, read Feelings of Hope During COVID-19

 

Develop a daily routine: Unemployment can often lead to boredom, feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and depression. We need to develop new daily habits so that we stay active and motivated. This includes the following:

  • Adopt a regular sleep/wake cycle
  • Adopt a daily exercise routine
  • Take time each day to develop a new skill or work on a new project
  • Nourish our bodies with plenty of whole foods and water
  • Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside
  • Spend quality time with loved ones (even if that means virtual happy hours and meetings or practicing social distancing)
  • Spend time to meditate, read, or practicing yoga
  • Spend time to focus on activities that bring you joy
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs
  • Attend community support groups, whether they are virtual or in-person
  • Get in contact with an addiction treatment center

Seven Ways to Support a Loved One with Addiction

Suppose you have a friend or relative who is struggling with a substance use disorder. Whether it is alcohol, recreational drugs, or illicit drugs, it can be one of the most challenging situations to witness. Addiction can be crumbling, and when you are sitting in the backseat, watching it unfold with your loved one, it is a normal reaction to want to help. But how can you help? Many individuals are afraid to help, may not know how to help, or may cause more harm than good when trying to help. While each situation is unique, and everyone is fighting their own battle, below are some general tips on how to support a loved one who is struggling with an addiction.

Establish trust

The relationship between you and your loved one can be severed if trust is not at the foundation. Therefore it is essential to take action to build and strengthen trust in the relationship. Trust requires honesty, compassion, empathy, boundaries, and being able to communicate regardless of having different opinions or perspectives. Avoid negative interactions such as nagging, name-calling, criticizing, and judging, and instead, focus on the positive ways to help your loved one seek treatment.

Do not enable

An enabler is defined as “an individual who encourages negative or self-destructive behaviors.” 

Unfortunately, many family members and friends act as enablers to their loved ones who struggle with a substance use disorder. We often are scared or upset for our loved ones and want to support them, but instead of being honest with them, we try to rescue them from their addictive behaviors. We often will lend them money, bail them out of jail, make excuses, and hold their hand when they are in trouble. Even if we are doing these things out of compassion and empathy, this is more hurtful than helpful and can lead to worsening behaviors. Instead of enabling our loved ones, we should hold them accountable, allow them to experience the consequences associated with their addiction, and try our best to help them seek professional help.

Educate yourself

Mental health and substance use disorders are not simple. They are complicated disorders with painful consequences that can potentially wreak havoc. However, with the right education and treatment, there is hope for a full recovery and a successful future. As a family member or friend, it is essential to educate yourself about the addiction process so you can better understand your loved one’s disorder and journey to recovery.

Practice compassion and empathy

Addiction is difficult. The path to recovery is challenging, and sometimes relapse can be devastating. Nobody is to blame, but we often find ourselves pointing fingers, arguing, and destroying relationships because of the underlying addiction. During these times, it is crucial to take a step back, be kind, offer help, listen, and practice compassion and empathy towards your loved one.

Encourage treatment

Every substance use and mental health disorder will require professional treatment, at some point in the course of the disease. Seeking treatment earlier rather than later can reduce harmful consequences and can potentially lead to faster recovery. It is essential to encourage your loved one to seek treatment and find a treatment center that best fits their needs and personality. The relationship between the treatment team and your loved one is one of the most critical factors associated with recovery.

Set boundaries

In the chaos of addiction, boundaries are essential for your well-being. When individuals are deep in the perils of their addiction, they often portray harmful behaviors. They can cross boundaries that can potentially affect your own mental well-being and personal life. Whether it is prohibiting unethical behaviors such as lying, stealing, and cheating or not allowing them to use alcohol or drugs in your home, setting boundaries is beneficial to both you and your loved one.

Practice self-care

Helping and supporting your loved one during this time can take a toll on your physical and mental health. You may find yourself feeling sad, exhausted, and overwhelmed. As a result, this can affect both your personal and professional life. It is essential to take time for yourself to re-focus and re-center. Remember to spend quality time with your family, practice healthy sleep and dietary habits, and engage in activities that bring you joy. If you want to be a reliable support system for your loved one, you must first take care of yourself.

Someone once told me, ‘I heard you finally got rid of your addiction.’ I smiled and said, ‘No, addiction doesn’t work like that. Once you have it, you will always have it. I just choose not to feed it.”

– Anonymous

Seeking help at Quest 2 Recovery

Our philosophy at Quest 2 Recovery is simple: heal the mind, body, and spirit in a family-like environment. We believe in a holistic approach to treatment, one that caters to each individual’s distinct needs. As a trauma-based treatment program, we believe in resolving the underlying issues that brought the onset of substance use. Our team of clinicians helps each client identify the faulty belief systems stemming from childhood, then psych-educate clients on the symptoms of addiction and mental health disorders to understand and alleviate the power of certain triggers”.