Anxiety sets in about GM plant

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Friday, December 19, 2008
— Feeling blue, Janesville? Anxious about the future?

No wonder. The loss of more than 2,000 jobs at General Motors and its suppliers as the SUV line shuts down Tuesday is enough to stress just about everyone.

Of course, the workers themselves bear the brunt of it. They have financial survival to worry about, but the psychological and spiritual distress should not be ignored, said psychiatrist Dr. Nancy Barklage.

For the workers, the feelings of rejection or betrayal can be like a loss of faith, Barklage said.

"Obviously, it's not losing faith in God, but it's losing faith in a company that you so believed in, a company that gave so much and a company that seemed like it never would go away," Barklage said.

Some of those workers' families have been at the plant for generations. And now, that company has rejected them.

"We see a lot of people feeling betrayed in that regard," Barklage said. " These things are happening in such large numbers, and it is creating significant insecurities for people."

Barklage has been counseling her share of laid-off workers at UW Health in Madison. She said it hasn't been this bad since she started working in Madison in 1979.

People who still have jobs are affected, as well.

"We certainly have seen some survivor guilt with people who have survived a widespread job loss in their workplace," Barklage said.

It's hard enough to be the only person around who lost a job, Barklage said, but it can be harder when hundreds of people in your town are looking for work.

"It just gets into demoralization, where people won't have as much willingness to get up and find a job."

The urge to shut down and do nothing is your enemy, Barklage said. You should fight it.

Some people have more internal resources to get through the mental tumult, Barklage said. Others need help.

Friends and family can offer encouragement, but they shouldn't make things out to be worse than they are, and they shouldn't sugarcoat it.

And they shouldn't talk about it all the time, Barklage advised.

Some families will move, and that increases the stress as they lose the close ties to family and friends, Barklage said.

As the economic effects ripple through the community, the psychological impact does, as well, Barklage said. Business owners worry they might see a drop in sales. Employees wonder if they are next.

"People get depressed, and they also get anxious," Barklage said. "And the anxiety and the depression aren't just at the time that they find out what is going on. It continues to grow for many people."

Some people suffer aftershocks much later, when they run out of money for the mortgage, rent or food, she said. So they need to seek out community support services, such as food pantries or church-based services.


Dr. Nancy Barklage has these tips for psychological survival for people after they lose their jobs:

-- Seek support from friends and family or your faith community.

"Reach out. Talk to people in person. E-mail. Make phone calls. Let people know. Share the feelings. This is absolutely critical."

-- Take a look at your life. Workers often define their lives by their work. But a mother or father is much more than a breadwinner.

"Be aware of what is good in life and stable-one's children, partner, spouse, religion," she said. "Hold on to those things."

-- Don't lose track of your workmates. Some of a person's closest relationships are at work. Make time to be with those people.

-- Set a daily schedule. Get up at your regular time. "Most people do better with structure."

Set goals, such as sending out a certain number of job applications each day. Make your job search your new job, but don't make it all-consuming. Schedule time with friends, to complete projects at home, or to investigate educational opportunities.

-- Make a financial plan. Discuss it with your partner. It may involve going back to school to update your skills. It may mean searching for work farther from home than you originally wanted.

"A budget is absolutely critical."

Some people are uncomfortable examining their finances. They're afraid to look. But looking pays off. It can make you feel good about yourself, more in control, Barklage said.

-- Take care of yourself. "Sometimes people are tempted, when being treated poorly, to treat themselves poorly," Barklage said. Nurture yourself and accept nurturing from others.

Exercise. Eat well. Stay away from drink or drugs.

-- If you need help making ends meet, seek out community resources. The Rock County Job Center may be your first stop for a job search or deciding whether you should go back to school. For food, heating assistance, transportation and other needs, try First Call for Help, (608) 752-3100.

Last updated: 11:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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