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Pennsylvanians are dealing with the long-term impacts of unemployment on their mental health

Thousands of Pennsylvanians were laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic and not only did they lose their jobs, but some also lost themselves.

ENOLA, Pa. — One of the first questions you ask someone you just met is "what do you do for a living?"

For a lot of people, our job is part of our identity, however, the pandemic has changed that.

Thousands of Pennsylvanians were laid off or furloughed and not only did they lose their jobs, but some also lost themselves.

Sue Ellen Sale applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance months ago and has yet to receive a dime.

She said, "I've filed for 32 weeks now and all I get back is form letters and nobody calls and actually talks to me or responds to what I actually ask so it's been really rough. I got to a point where I just felt totally hopeless. there was no future, nothing is ever going to be the same." 

The woman from Enola says the stress of unemployment, including the financial burden, has taken a toll on her mental health.

"I ended up going on an anti-depressant, I have an eating disorder, they were worried about my weight, I can't keep my weight up, I've lost like 40 pounds, it's just been stressful to every part of my life," she said.

According to the PA Department of Labor and Industry, more than 2 million Pennsylvanians have filed some sort of unemployment claim since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Audrey Nottke, the Director of Inpatient Services at Phillhaven Mt Gretna with WellSpan Health says those unemployment numbers can have a long-lasting impact, "We really identify ourselves through the work that we do, the roles that we hold. When unemployment strikes, it really strikes at the core of who we are."

Nottke says there has been a significant demand in people seeking mental health services since the pandemic hit, especially for people who faced either short-term or long-term unemployment.

"It impacts them in the ability to sleep, these feelings of sort of emptiness, not having a sense of direction and that can be really scary for people," she said.

The director of inpatient services says people should focus on what they can control, "Reflect on is this what I want to do? Is this a time to recreate myself? Do I need to go back to school? Maybe start volunteering in different ways. It definitely is an invitation for reflection."

As for Sue Ellen Sale, she's taking it one day at a time.

"It's going to take a while to bounce back, I think."