Mental Health Toll Rises as Coronavirus Leaves Millions Jobless and Struggling Financially

When Sandra Fowler lost her job as a hotel manager in March, she thought of the many homeless people sleeping on the streets of Tucson, Arizona, and feared she would soon be among them.

“I could mentally see myself on the street,” says Fowler, 58. “That type of anxiety is what kept me up at night … I was planning on being homeless because I didn’t know how I was going to make it.”

It took Fowler eight months to find a job in a shipping-and-packing store that replaced her previous $42,000 salary with a part-time position that pays $12 an hour. Her wages are barely enough to keep a roof over her head and not enough to steadily put food on the table.

“Every day I have to go to work and put on a smile for strangers when I’m literally breaking inside because my finances are just totally out of whack,” Fowler says. “Mentally it’s going to take me a while to get back to a place where I feel safe financially, where I know I’m going to be OK.’’

Mental toll of COVID-19

The physical toll of COVID-19 is stark, with more than 484,000 dead, and over 27 million infected in the U.S. But among the millions of Americans who lost jobs during the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic, or who have seen their hours and wages cut, the toll on mental health is also widespread.

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, 70% of those who are jobless say being out of work has left them more stressed out. Over five in ten said they were dealing with more mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. And 81% said they’d felt adrift, fought more with loved ones or experienced other emotional issues since losing their jobs.

“Not only is unemployment putting people in a more vulnerable financial situation, but our survey founds it’s also having a negative impact on their emotional well-being,” says Kim Parker, Pew’s director of social trends research and co-author of the report.

In part that’s because what we do affects how we see ourselves.

“Unemployment at any time takes a significant toll because employment is connected to identity and self-worth,” says Robin L. Smith, a psychologist who is counseling patients who are struggling with the pandemic. But during COVID-19, it has been particularly stressful “because we are bearing witness to more than just job loss. We are having an extended and real experience of catastrophic loss.”

First shock, then depression

Whether Americans are employed or not, symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as substance use and thoughts of suicide, have spiked during the pandemic says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Charisse Jones

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