Last year, the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University launched the New Start Career Network, providing resources to New Jerseyans age 45 and older who have been jobless, but looking for work, for six months or more. NSCN is now partnering with a group out of the United Kingdom to help these jobseekers cope with the emotional fallout of their unemployment.

Screenshot courtesy of New Start Career Network

"We have believed, from the very beginning of New Start Career Network, that this mental health or behavioral health aspect was absolutely critical," Maria Heidkamp, NSCN director and Heldrich Center senior researcher, said. "I think it is something that gets overlooked a lot of times in programs for jobseekers."

NSCN's services are available free of charge, and include the assistance of some 175 career coaches who volunteer their time. In the year-plus since the group was founded, 1,745 Garden State residents have signed up.

Long-term unemployment affects about four in 10 New Jersey residents who are continuing to look for jobs, one of the highest rates in the country, according to Heidkamp. Forty-two percent of these people hold four-year college diplomas; a quarter of those also have some sort of graduate degree. Many have remained out of work for as long as two years, or even longer, hamstrung by the double-whammy stigmas of age discrimination and length of time since their last job.

Considering all of these factors, Heidkamp said it's no surprise that emotional and physical issues like stress, anxiety, depression and increased dependency on drugs or alcohol may accompany the often fruitless job search — compounded by many jobseekers lacking insurance. That's where Big White Wall, which started in the U.K. in 2007, comes in.

The idea of Big White Wall is to offer an anonymous, online support system for anyone struggling with personal issues related to their unemployment. A network of members provides peer support, but the topical chat rooms, known as "talkabouts," are also monitored by mental health professionals.

The partnership between NSCN and BWW is still considered to be in the pilot stage, at barely a month old, but Heidkamp hopes to soon see membership numbers reflecting increased participation in the discussion of long-term unemployment, and feedback from those who've gained something from the initiative.

"If we can raise awareness and provide a tool that may help them cope with some of what they're feeling, we think that's going to make them better jobseekers," she said.

To check out NSCN's resume and mock interview tools, and also webinars on various topics related to job searching, go to newstartcareernetwork.org. BWW's dedicated partner page with NSCN, meanwhile, can be found at bigwhitewall.us/nscn.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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