Willamette Workforce Partnership Improves Job Seekers' Mental Health

Economic opportunity and stability are key to good health. When families can afford quality housing, food, healthcare, childcare and other necessities, individuals and communities do better.

In 2012, our communities weren’t doing well. Families struggled to make ends meet, and nearly one out of 10 Oregonians was unemployed. Due to the Great Recession, many of these folks were unemployed long term, leading to depression and other mental health issues.

At the peak of unemployment in the United States and our region, researchers at the mid-Willamette Valley Worksource Center (then called Job Growers, now the Willamette Workforce Partnership) discovered that programs in Britain and Australia were successfully using cognitive-behavioral therapy to improve the mental health of the long-term unemployed and, thus, help them find jobs. Inspired by reading about these programs, Willamette Workforce Partnership created a series of workshops based on cognitive behavioral principles. Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded a small pilot. Results were positive, and the federal Department of Labor then funded a state-wide five-year project.

To date, more than 1,200 unemployed people have gone through the workshop series in WorkSource Centers around the state. The workshop runs for four weeks, with three two-hour session per week. Topics covered include: how thoughts and feelings affect behavior, risky thinking and how to counter it, increasing emotional awareness, managing negative emotions, building self-esteem, goal setting and maintaining momentum during a job search.

Willamette Workforce Partnership plans next to pilot test the workshop series with groups that historically face more barriers to employment. That includes job seekers with various disabilities, young adults with Autism, social service recipients, workers’ compensation participants, and folks being released from incarceration.

Beginning this September, Public Policy Associates will formally evaluate the five-year project. Preliminary results will be available in December.