Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Unemployment and mental illness

Over the past month I have been transitioning from the job I have had for the past two years and into a new job I will be beginning next week.

This got me thinking about how important it is to any person's mental health that he/she be healthily occupied. This goes far beyond the time one is involved in paid employment, but let's begin the discussion there.

As timing would have it, the same week I was applying for my new job I watched a great movie looking at this very subject called The Company Men. In addition to the excellent performances from the very talented (and well known) cast I felt this movie hit the nail on the head in regard to the significance of a person having a job to his or her own sense of wellbeing and healthy self-esteem. The movie puts this in focus as we see a domino-like series of characters laid off over the course of the movie.

One character in particular (played by Chris Cooper) stuck out to me as portraying a very real persona - someone who becomes depressed after losing his job. In a telling scene late in the movie the character's old boss finds him sitting at a bar and clearly drunk. "I can't go home yet" he says. "My wife doesn't want the neighbours to discover I am unemployed so I come here until it is 'home time'".

My own experience of being unemployed mingled with my battle with depression. It took me two years to go from the point of leaving psychiatric hospital until I was capable of taking a quarter-load of study and resume my university degree. These were tough times. I suppose what kept me going was the sense that I had turned an important corner during my hospital stay (as I have previously written about) and that the future could well be bright, even if the light at the end of the tunnel seemed distant much of the time.

If we found ourselves unemployed, what we need most is a sense of direction and a reassurance that our worth does not consist in a job title or a lack thereof. In The Company Men, Ben Affleck's character discovers this truth quite beautifully. For anyone who is struggling with mental issues connected with unemployment I highly recommend this movie as a source of insight and inspiration.