Mental Health, Unemployment; Compassion


I have learned over the years that first appearances don’t always tell the story. There are many people who, upon first meeting, seem to be in earnest to find employment, but whose actions conflict with what their words would have you believe. It’s easy to mistakenly assume that these people lack commitment to finding a job. You might categorize them as lazy, attempting to intentionally deceive, not putting in the effort to get a job  while telling you they want to work. Often you come to realize however that something else is at play.

Most government programs that provide the basics such as food and shelter have expectations that people look to find income, usually obtained via employment, and work towards financial independence. At its simplest, those who work give a portion of their income to support those in society who don’t. Those with employment income generally assume that those in receipt of help are working hard to get off those programs and join the ranks of the employed. They also assume that those who administer such programs are providing help and advice to aid the unemployed to reach this same goal as quickly as possible.. They also believe this safety net built into our society is meant to support people for a relatively short time until a person finds financial independence.

Most people I believe, have compassion and care for those who are out of work, especially for those incapable of supporting themselves; for whom there is no alternative to find food and shelter. And there is the crux of the situation for a lot of people who see themselves as supporting others; some want to work and try hard to become financially independent. Others seem to avoid looking for work, and these are easier to spot to the average citizen. After all, someone looking for work is either inside some employment agency, working at finding a job from their home, or they are mingling on the street, dressed like workers, on their way to job interviews, meetings, etc.

Those who avoid looking for work or seem to be avoiding looking for work are easier to spot. These are the people we see who look to be of a working age, but are loitering about, sitting in parks and coffee shops, permanently dressed in ‘weekend’ clothes, walking with no purpose, certainly seem to have no work destination in mind. If we saw a cane, a limp, a cast on the arm or some such visible sign of disability, we’d extend compassion, believing their idle time is justified.

However, for many such people, there is no visible sign of disability. Look them over quickly and they seem to be healthy and capable of working; doing something productive. It’s likely that this person you’re looking at is dealing with some mental health issue. Now you might be thinking that this presumption is a bit of a leap, brought on the amount of time I’ve spent in my profession. Fair enough.

So let’s look at you. So you’ve got a  job and you’ve never been on assistance let alone out of work for long. You’re self-image is pretty intact and you’ve got a pretty healthy outlook on things. Suppose now you found yourself out of work. Downsized, laid off, fired, had to move to another city because your spouse took a job there, went back to school and are just job searching now – take your pick. In the short-term you find yourself in shock. No matter, you’ll be working soon.

While optimistic at first, you find your social connections; friends and past work colleagues treat you differently. First off, the work connections are only accessible when you call on them, and there’s less and less to talk about from your end. Your friends keep up at first, but you find you’re left out more and more because after all, money is tight and get-togethers for Spa Days and weekend jaunts to concerts and hotels out-of-town aren’t in your budget, so they call less on you to join them.

You cut back where you can on groceries, trips in the car, clothing and entertainment. Your parents and relatives tell you to just get a job, after all you’ve been successful before so it won’t be long. But it is. Your self-esteem has taken a hit as has part of your identity; the part of you that identified yourself by a profession and as an employee.

Making a résumé and applying for jobs seems simple enough, but you’re not getting the results you’ve had in the past. While applying for work, you’re not eating as well as you should; groceries are more expensive so you buy the cheaper, pre-made and packaged stuff. You put off dental work and new glasses maybe – you’ll get them when you’re working.

Look, the bottom line is the longer you’re out of work the harder it is to keep positive. Doubt, anxiety, sadness, depression; it’s not hard to see how these creep in and can be debilitating. When you experience these yourself or work with those who do, it’s easier to see how someone can want to work but literally be unable to do what is necessary to be successfully employed; sometimes for a long time, some times forever. And the longer ones unemployment lasts, the harder it becomes to break the routine.

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