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Psychological impact of unemployment among behavioral healthcare workers

September 3, 2010
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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As unemployment rates exceed 10% in many places, job loss has becomes a central issue for many communities. One of our sons was just hired after a several month job search and one of our neighbors was laid off after 25 years in his position. Our neighbor has taken this as an opportunity to start a strenuous exercise program and now rides his bike 15 miles a day. I did some serious power walking when I was between jobs at one point and I wonder if this attention to health is sort of like the body narcissism sometimes seen among prisoners, who feel like they have lost control of almost everything but their own bodies.

Like many other behavioral healthcare organizations our center downsized to start the new fiscal year and after looking at the revenues from the first two months, we may have to reevaluate again what level of staffing we can support. State changes in Medicaid services and reimbursement rates have turned the business model we have use for the last decade upside down. We spend a lot of time analyzing how these cuts will effect our ability to provide quality services to our clients and how we can mitigate the negative impact. We also talk to legislators and politicians about how the job losses will effect the local economy. But I'm afraid we don't spend much time looking at the impact on the people most immediately affected, the staff members who lose their jobs. Perhaps it's because we feel guilty about letting those people down and would prefer just not to think about them.

Just because people work in the field of behavioral healthcare, they are not immune to the common psychological problems associated with job lose such as anxiety, depression, somatization disorders, loss of self esteem and feelings of worthlessness. There is also the increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse and family conflict. Social support and a high activity level can be moderating factors.

Job loss is more detrimental to people who have a high degree of personal involvement with the job, which is most people in our field. Many experts advise expressing feelings, trying to recapture your self-esteem by doing a realistic self-appraisal and, trying to learn from the experience. Then they suggest taking a problem solving approach to the situation by redoing your budget, updating your resume, and making a systematic job search, networking as much as possible.

I know most larger behavioral health organizations have human resources mechanisms to provide various kinds of separation and benefits assistance and even outplacement services, in some cases. I am wondering, however, how many centers offer or arrange actual counseling for downsized staff or provide such as services for their communities. In today’s economy charity might have to began at home.



Wow this really hit home. I don't work for a behavioral healthcare agency myself, but I do work for a nonprofit who helps these organizations to reduce their unemployment costs. As unemployment has risen, we've seen them paying double and triple what they used to pay in unemployment taxes...just as their revenue is depleting. This article helped me to understand the real impact of all of this, and why I'm glad I do what I do. If you'd like to check us out, visit

Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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