Thousands of workers will be without jobs once General Motors shutters its Oshawa plant in December 2019, opening them up to unexpected stress and emotion in the wake of being laid off.
GM made the announcement on Monday that it will be shutting down five plants in North America, including the one in Oshawa, to focus on its electric and autonomous vehicle programs.
The closure will leave more than 2,500 employees out of work.
After the announcement, workers were vocal, questioning what their next steps will be, wondering how they will provide for their families.
Dr. Khush Amaria, a clinical director for BEACON digital therapy, told Global News that the first step in managing the unexpected stress is to be proactive, which can start simply by talking.
“Talking to the people who are in your circle of support, whether that’s family members or friends, in this case, colleagues or people in your community,” Amaria said. “We’re all sort of used to getting support from different people but it’s really important to talk about something like this with whoever you’re comfortable with.”
She said for most people, if an issue isn’t faced head-on, it can get much bigger and have an even stronger negative impact over time. Amaria said if a person is laid off, they should still keep up with their routines rather than withdraw or make any other big life changes.
WATCH: Oshawa mayor says GM closure is a ‘sad day’, hopes city will be heard through talks
Employment is a large part of a person’s identity, she said, so employees from the Oshawa plant need to know and be told that there are other parts to their identity.
Furthermore, guilt can play a part in what a person is feeling after being laid off. They should be reminded that a layoff, more often than not, is about the economy rather than an individual’s skills or capability.
For family members or someone connected to someone who has been laid off, Amaria said they should pay attention to signs of decline in that person.
“We know that if someone is dealing with a stressor, we expect them to have lots of different reactions. There’s going to be some sadness, anger, some denial and people can become more irritable or withdrawn,” Amaria said.
“They might have some overly negative or overly worrisome thoughts or catastrophic thinking.”
Family members and friends can be there to instil hope in the affected party.
“They might be the ones who can help them to talk about the emotional piece of the layoff even if you can’t help them with the practical strategy of finding a job,” Amaria said.
As for a child whose mother or father has been laid off, Amaria said they should always be spoken to in a “developmentally appropriate” or age-appropriate way.
“For young kids, it’s not something they understand or really can see the impact on their lives,” she said. “You want to continue on with the routines.”
In regard to older children, the clinical psychologist said it could be used as an opportunity to demonstrate healthy coping strategies, whether it be exercise, talking to others, thinking about the situation in a positive light. You can also highlight things you are not doing in the wake of the loss, such as choosing to not just stay home and do nothing.
“Regardless of age, as long as you let a child know that any time they have a question or they have something they aren’t sure about, that they can reach out to you or someone that they trust to ask those questions,” Amaria said. “It’s our job as adults around them to answer those questions as honestly as possible.”
In Oshawa, children won’t be able to be shielded from the news of the plant closure because it affects so many, so Amaria said it’s imperative the issue is addressed.
In the current age of social media and technology, once GM’s plans were confirmed, the news became widespread immediately, which could have a negative impact on those directly affected.
“The only risk of having this information so present is that it’s difficult to process it all at once and sometimes have it all available makes us believe that we kind of have to sift through it all and understand it at one time,” Amaria said. “But the answer to that is we really don’t.”
“It’s not unusual to want to avoid or want to escape from an initial stressor, that’s kind of the fight or flight response that we have built in.”
However, there are advantages to having such a broad awareness of the situation.
People will be checking in with one another and others may be able to see if other people are struggling.
There may be more opportunity for people to lean on each other, Amaria said.
“Whether it’s empathy or whether it’s an opportunity to vent, or [develop] strategies of what to do next.”
The Oshawa plant currently builds the Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. All are scheduled to be discontinued by the end of 2019.
The union representing the workers of GM made it clear on Monday that they were not happy with the situation and would be fighting the decision.
GM said shifting consumer demand and the cost of operating facilities mean the plant is no longer financially viable. The company said it expects to save $6 billion by the end of 2020.
LISTEN: Unifor’s Jerry Dias on the closure of the GM plant in Oshawa