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Unexpectedly losing a job is hard, but it can also change you in the long term, setting off a cycle that may be hard to break out of, and leaving lasting effects on the way you see and interact with the world.

Hosted by: Anthony Brown

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[♪ INTRO].

It's not shocking that losing a job can have a major effect on your life. I mean, it can introduce a whole lot of stress, especially if you're worried about staying on top of bills and finding a new place to work.

But what is surprising is that, no matter how quickly you can find a new role, just the experience of losing your job can change you, and it can leave lasting effects on the way you see and interact with the world. So if you've been experiencing any of this lately: You're not alone. Unexpectedly losing a job is hard, and studies back up what a lot of us already know.

Like, a 2007 paper found that people who got fired or laid off were more likely to report more symptoms of depression than those who left a job of their own will, even if both groups were out of work for a while. And the key thing is, getting a new job didn't undo the damage. Even though people in both groups found new jobs at about the same rate, those who were previously forced out of work had higher symptoms of depression and a lower feeling of job security than those who chose to leave.

Now, it is possible that this had something to do with the loss of income. But the researchers think this is related to a concept known as learned helplessness. Basically, if you get used to something being out of your control, you don't always take advantage when you get control back.

And the fact that people who'd once lost a job now felt like they had less job security backs up the idea that they internalized that loss of control and began to view themselves as more helpless. Unfortunately, research has found that learned helplessness is closely tied to depression. Basically, if you learn that bad things happen regardless of what you do, it's easy to become hopeless and lose the motivation to do things differently.

That definitely doesn't mean losing your job guarantees you'll feel this way. But it could be something to keep an eye out for. And even beyond that, research shows that job loss can also affect mental health in other ways, for instance, by eroding people's trust.

See, everyone has a certain level of generalized trust, which is basically how much you trust strangers and folks you don't know much about. It tends to come from things like the culture you grew up in and how much you're exposed to people who are different from you. And for the most part, in any given person, that level of trust stays pretty stable over time.

But there are life events that can affect it, including losing work. We learned more about this in 2015, when researchers published the results of a 17-year study that explored how people's level of generalized trust evolved over time. They used data from a national survey of almost 7,000 33-year-olds assessing their trust in people in general.

Then, they compared it with the results of the same survey when the subjects were 50. And they found that one major event linked to a drop in trust over those 17 years was the loss of a job, and the drop was bigger the younger people were when it happened. Scientists don't have one single explanation for why that's the case, but studies have suggested that the sudden loss of a job is like a betrayal, which is one big thing that can damage trust.

It may also have to do with the loss of positive social interactions at work, since social networks are part of what helps people maintain trust in others. As for why the drop in trust was bigger in younger people, the authors of the 17-year study believe the job loss may have hit harder because work is often more central to younger people's sense of worth and identity. Now, both the loss of trust and learned helplessness can take a toll on someone, especially since they're so long-lasting.

But it's also worth knowing that they're not just things that happen internally. Job loss can also change the way someone interacts with other people. For example, a 2008 study published in the journal Social Forces explored data from a survey that tracked people's social habits over 30 years, and it found that people who had lost a job in the first 15 years became less social during the last 15.

That change in behavior wasn't just at work, either; people withdrew from all kinds of activities: church groups, charitable organizations, professional groups, and leisure activities. The group that reported job losses was less active in all those categories. At this point, it's not entirely clear why this is, but the researchers suggest that it might involve some or all of the things we've talked about so far, from loss of income and social ties to those risks of depression, distress, or loss of trust.

And while the full explanation is still fuzzy, what is clear right now is that there was still a drop in people's social lives well after the loss of work. The really hard thing is, since loneliness and disconnection from social groups is itself a risk factor for depression, losing a job can set off a cycle that may be hard to break out of. But we're not talking about this to be all doom-and-gloom on you.

Instead, we're unpacking this because just knowing about some of these risks and thought patterns can help you recognize them in yourself or other people, and may help you get out of them or seek help. After all, things like distress, trust, and loneliness are exactly what therapists can help with, so while you can't always avoid losing a job, you can care for yourself if it happens. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych!

And a special thanks to our patrons on Patreon, who make it possible for us to keep creating these videos and make science education free on the internet. If you'd like to become part of the amazing community that helps keep us going, you can find out more at patreon.com/SciShow. [♪ OUTRO].