Increasing Mental Health Issues Because of Unemployment Due to COVID-19 [Opinion]

by Anum Sidra

Among the many challenges that cropped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic is economic disruption, which also tops the list. It has propelled a massive rise in long-term unemployment, with long-lasting effects on the overall economy and on individuals’ livelihoods and mental health.

When the pandemic was at its peak and the world only had a haywire hypothesis but no cure for the coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) had urged the world to limit social interactions and restrict gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus. Many countries had duly shut down offices and businesses as precautionary restrictions that prevailed for over a year, but the measure led to millions of people losing their jobs.

Long-term unemployment is associated with losing a certain technical and professional grip on routine job matters. It can also impact a worker’s productivity and efficiency to do a task in various ways by, for example, cutting them off from professional networks, creativity, management skills, technical operations, fieldwork, etc. A spell of long-term unemployment can also financially and psychologically scar a worker for the rest of their career and reduce professional learning.

It is no surprise that young people are the most affected segment of the population when it comes to employment and labor. Various industries like hoteling, tourism, travel, airlines, and business operations or industries that need physical interaction have been severely affected.

Consequently, the youth that was inclined to these sectors and had the capacity to perform in them was badly hit and lost job opportunities and training, which caused a lack of skilled labor and job-specific skills. Moreover, employed segments and industries lacked the time to develop good employer ties, and this caused them to lose their jobs in the period of labor reduction during the lockdowns.

Pakistan is a developing economy that is faced with massive challenges such as poverty, economic pressure, and a high rate of unemployment while also currently trying to cope with this global challenge. To make things worse, the pandemic has shaken up the growth rate and driven unemployment, indicating that millions are still out of work despite a projected 3.9 percent growth of the GDP (ANI, 7 June 2021).

The report ‘Special Survey for Evaluation Socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19 on Wellbeing of People’ revealed that Pakistan’s labor market shrank by 13 percent in the April-June quarter of 2020, rendering 20.7 million people jobless.

Analysis of the data shows that the impact was severe in the industrial cities where the labor force is linked with formal labor setups instead of the rural population engaged with farming and agriculture. The data estimates show that three out of four people were affected due to restrictions and the closure of business facilities or trade centers or markets.

Research shows that unemployment and mental health are strongly interlinked. The unemployed segment tends to have a higher probability of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress, and an increase in chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and musculoskeletal disorders).

Unemployment and Basic Human Behavior

The loss of jobs and job insecurity has a profound impact on the fabric of society and individual behaviors. A considerable increase in domestic violence and gender-based violence was also observed and reported across the country. A major reason for this increase involves the heads of households losing their jobs and then being unable to feed their families.

This phenomenon disturbs the entire household, social structure, and familial relationships. The sense of insecurity, the inability to feed one’s family, and the higher dependency of a family on a sole breadwinner cause hypertension and other psychological disorders. This pattern also leads to heart problems that tend to develop into severe heart attacks or cardiovascular diseases.

The recent instance of a 28-year-old man who committed suicide by jumping from the third floor of a shopping mall in Karachi is an example of such circumstances. The mother of the deceased revealed that the father of three was unemployed and depressed, which pushed him to take his own life. This incident is a wake-up call for the community, government, and different stakeholders to take measures for people with mental health challenges. It has also shown the relevance and significance of initiating an awareness campaign for mentally disturbed individuals to facilitate them to share their problems with certified professionals.

Tackling Mental Health Issues

Some organizations have collaborated to cope with the hazards of the mental issues brought on by the pandemic. A CESVI-led consortium has initiated a campaign that includes various international organizations such as Concern Worldwide, HELVETAS, ACTED, Welt-hunger-Hilfe, International Medical Corps, and Medecins-du-Monde funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The consortium has launched a Risk Communication and Community Engagement project called ‘Improving National Capacity to Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic in 24 Districts of Pakistan’. The aim of the intervention is to support the Government of Pakistan in tackling the health crisis by inculcating behavior changes through a media campaign. This campaign aims to encourage people to adopt the Preventive Measures of COVID 19, and provides counseling for mental health, besides psycho-social support.

The campaign EHTIYAAT WAHID NIJAAT has been launched to meet the abovementioned set of goals of the project to inform people that the world is not coronavirus-free yet, and following SOPs is the only way to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus so far.

Moreover, the KHAYAAL helpline (0331 111 1020) urges people to destigmatize mental illness and seek free of cost help from experts.

Although the financial loss caused by the pandemic will take time for things to get back on track, it is now high time to help people with their psychological struggles and motivate them to get through challenges and stay positive about the future.

The online counseling initiative is particularly encouraging because online psychological services offer a number of benefits. To begin with, online services facilitate people promptly and minimize the risk of infection and anxiety among both psychotherapists and patients who are hesitant to engage in face-to-face interactions because of the pandemic (Békés and Aafjes-van Doorn, 2020).

Furthermore, a study identified some of the major benefits of telepsychology, which include reduced waiting time for consultations because they can be conducted from home or at work while saving time and money, and lowering travel and rental costs for the office and for those who provide and use the service (Pietrabissa et al. 2015).

According to the authors, online psychological services make it easier for those who struggle to obtain support near their social surroundings to get help while avoiding mobility issues. Furthermore, online services assist those with little resources and have numerous inclusive benefits overall that are needed during the pandemic and otherwise.

About the Author

Anum Sidra is a social researcher working in the development sector for the past five years. She can be reached at anumsidra94(at)