Interview with a Canadian mental health expert

Interview with David Kirby, Clinical Services Manager at Distress Centre Calgary

My role with Distress Centre Calgary is as the Clinical Services Manager, a position I’ve held for almost 10 years. My background is in Clinical Social Work. My main role is supervising our face-to-face crisis counselling program, one of our Agency’s core services along with a 24-hour crisis contact centre and also 211, the information and referral source for community, government, health, and social services. We’ve been providing no-fee crisis intervention services in Calgary for 47 years.

The Canadian oil and gas sector has experienced severe job losses – what are the main psychological effects of losing your job?

Some of the main psychological effects of losing a job include: anxiety, depression, loss of one’s identity, sadness, anger, sleep deprivation, relationship conflicts, substance use/abuse, and thoughts of suicide. In general, many of our service users describe some or all of these impacts. For many the uncertainty of how long the recession slow-down will continue has been very stressful. Many people relate to us that this current situation is the worst they ever seen. Even people who have survived previous ‘boom- and-bust’ economic cycles in Calgary relate how unexpectedly harsh this one has been, specifically in terms of the high degree of helplessness and hopelessness they feel for the future. Many people we hear from are resigned to accepting that life will never be as good as it was.

What advice would you offer someone struggling with the loss of their job?

In general we encourage people to reach out and talk to someone (i.e. our 24-hour crisis lines) when they’re feeling stressed about their future. We know that the sooner people reach out for help, the more likely the psychological impacts can be lessened. We encourage people affected by job loss to use their support system, focus on what they can control, develop an action plan for creating some positive change, and use the time to evaluate their values, priorities, and focus time and energy on self-care.

When a member of a family loses their job, what is the wider impact on the family?

Many of our clients identify job insecurity and financial stresses impact their family relationships in negative ways. We typically hear of more conflict related to finances and the stresses of having to adjust to a reduced standard of living. Sometimes this conflict can develop into domestic violence or child abuse, adding further stresses and strains about the future. Often we hear about increased alcohol and other drug use as coping strategies to numb out from anxiety and the worries about the future. Generally we find that whatever the initial presenting concern, it doesn’t take long to uncover the roots stemming from job insecurity, fears and worries about the future, and especially about future losses of self-identity, relationships, and loss of respect of friends and other loved ones.

Many people have had to retrain after working in the oil and gas sector for decades – how have you seen people cope with this?

For many people the uncertainty of how long the impacts of the recession and sector slow-down will last creates a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude that creates a frustrating ‘holding pattern’ of helplessness. People more anxious about their immediate finances typically consider taking ‘survival jobs’ until the sector picks up again. In general, we hear many people are reluctant to abandon their former jobs and careers for lower paying jobs as that feels like a ‘step back’ in their career. Individuals nearing retirement are often most severely affected. They may not feel financially secure enough to retire early and often fear that their age and experience will be detrimental to finding new work. Many people find the prospect of having to ‘start over’ very much intimidating and difficult to cope with. We often encourage people to use the time to reconnect with their values and reconsider other hopes and dreams they may have had at earlier points in their lives, essentially trying to turn a negative into a positive.

Have you seen a recent rise in calls?

In general, our agency has seen about a 15% increase in service use over the past two years that we relate to the recession and impacts of it in the energy sector in Calgary. Certainly we’ve had many more calls related to resources for emergency financial assistance to pay for rents, mortgages, utility bills, and even to put food on the table. The amount of suffering create by the recession and sector slowdown in Calgary and across our Province has been unfathomable. Anecdotally we can say that this is certainly the worst we ever seen it locally.

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