After the initial shock of a job loss and potentially the temporary spurt of giddiness over freedom, an unemployed person may often find themselves experiencing a sudden loss of identity as time goes on and they remain unemployed, hurtling farther into a spiral of self-doubt. Weeks and months slide by, and you’ll begin questioning your own worth; you might feel useless, and a time when you once scrambled to apply to jobs will unravel into a blurred stretch of days in which you somehow find yourself unable to leave bed.

It’s well known that being unemployed for a significant amount of time can have a negative effect on your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s likely to raise your risk of depression and suicide. But according to a new study, being unemployed can actually alter your personality too, making you less agreeable and influencing your levels of conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 6,769 Germans and asked them to self-evaluate the few core personality traits stated above over the course of a couple years. When the participants first began the survey they all had jobs, but a chunk of them slowly lost jobs over the course of a few years. Some remained unemployed, while others found new jobs.

“Unemployment has a strongly negative influence on wellbeing,” the authors wrote, but they wanted to find out if it could also change a person’s basic personality traits. “Whether personality changes arise through natural maturation processes or contextual/environment factors is still a matter of debate. Unemployment, a relatively unexpected and commonly occurring life event, may shed light on the relevance of context for personality change.”

They found that the men and women in the study who remained unemployed for a long time actually experienced significant patterns of change in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness, while their employed counterparts, or those who found another job after losing one, didn’t. These results, the authors argue, “indicate that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought.”

In addition, the researchers found that men and women reacted quite differently to loss of employment. Women became less agreeable every year they were unemployed, while men had a quick spike in agreeableness before seeing a drastic decrease after the third year of unemployment. The authors believe that agreeableness is more emphasized and valued in women employees, which is why they hypothesize that women were more likely to report feeling less agreeable after losing their jobs. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to see a consistent decline in conscientiousness compared to women. Though women reported feeling less conscientious after losing a job, it wasn’t as much as it was for men.

The authors argue that it’s yet another sign that unemployment and economic troubles should be taken more seriously when it comes to public health — it can have quite an impact on people’s mental, emotional, and even physical states. A 2006 study examined the feelings of loneliness among unemployed people, and noted that being unable to find a job while having friends who work can lead to impaired social networks, and feelings of worthlessness and boredom. Other studies have shown that unemployment is linked to mental disorders, clinical depression, insomnia, anxiety, and increased risk of alcohol or drug abuse.

So when it comes to unemployment, the authors of the latest study believe it has more of an effect on the nation’s mental health than what might appear on the surface. “Policies designed to curb unemployment preserve not only psychological health but also, critically, the basic personality traits that characterize personhood,” the authors wrote.

Source: Boyce C, Wood A, Daly M, Sedikides C. Personality Change Following Unemployment. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2015.