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Job Hunting, Jobseekers' Perspective

Depression and Unemployment: How We Can Help

NOTE: This is an article I wrote for the NAWDP Advantage Newsletter dated April, 2012. Link: http://www.nawdp.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Publications2/TheAdvantageNewsletter/Advantage_April12.pdf

I recently received this email from an exhausted and beaten jobseeker: “I wax weary. I might as well quit fooling myself and give up. The strain is overwhelming me. Fatigue is the order of the day and my “go” tank is bone dry. I just can’t do it anymore.” Many long-term unemployed echo these sentiments.

Depression or Grief?

Depression can be viewed in two different senses—one is situational depression, which is caused by an event such as death of a loved one, divorce or job loss. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described depression as part of the cycle of acceptance in her book On Death and Dying. In this context, it is more accurate to use the word “grief.” A person who was laid off can grieve the loss of their job as they would a loved one’s death, including such emotions as doubt, anger, and discouragement.

The second view is clinical depression, brought on by a chemical imbalance in the brain. As such, the condition usually precedes the event but can be exacerbated by it. Lifestyle changes and, if needed, medication can mitigate the effects of clinical depression.

A “Snowball Effect

Often, clients who have the most difficulty finding jobs have been struggling with depression resulting from the job loss and the subsequent employment period.

Depression brought on by an event such as a job loss is usually not caused solely by that event. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology suggests that a “cascade of secondary stressors,” such as financial strains, loss of structure and uncertainty about the future, may be pivotal in influencing an individual’s mental health. The resulting feelings of depression can cascade into other impacts such as poor physical health and lethargy; the entire effect “snowballs” as the depression deepens.

Breaking the Cycle

Depression depletes a person of their energy levels, motivation, and positivity. Jobseekers suffering from some degree of depression have probably been caught in a web of negative thinking and self-defeating attitudes. In this state, breaking the cycle of depression can be overwhelming. Small steps are needed at first.

STEP #1: Have a healthy support system

People suffering from depression tend to withdraw from the society of loved ones and friends at a time when their support is necessary. Many jobseekers say they don’t want to tire their loved ones with concerns and troubles. James Kenney, provider relations coordinator for OPTUM Health in Tacoma, Washington, observes that one of the most difficult parts in the process is the loss of social support network. So much of the depression emanates from the loss of the day to day support(s) of friends and colleagues. This tends to be compounded as individuals are seeking employment and not getting the job; not hearing back from employers about whether they received their application/resume; not hearing back from employers about the outcome of an interview; and they don’t have any social support to deal with the frustrations.

Breaking the cycle of depression and discouragement might be as simple as connecting a jobseeker to a support network—encouraging regular communication with family and friends, joining job clubs, or getting involved in the community.

STEP #2: Re-defining Success

A jobseeker, long beaten up by rejections from employers, will tend to lose sight of the accomplishments in their lives. Progression can give a person a feeling of success; when they do not see themselves progressing, they tend to lose perspective on what constitutes success.

Sometimes just getting up in the morning is an achievement. Helping jobseekers to recognize and celebrate the small successes in their lives can help restore their perspective.

STEP #3: Set goals

Breaking out of depression starts one small step at a time. When those steps are defined in terms of goals to achieve, they become more tangible. Encouraging a jobseeker to set goals for themselves can be beneficial, providing the goal:

  • Is relevant to their life
  • Isn’t too overwhelming
  • Has jobseeker buy-in
  • Is measurable.

Setting a goal of exercising, for example, would have its greatest chance for success if the jobseeker agrees to or initiates the goal, sees it as relevant to their current needs (for example, structure in their day or a mood-booster), and it is manageable and measurable: I will take a 30-minute brisk walk every weekday. Successful completion of even the smallest goals can give a feeling of accomplishment and an improved outlook on their job search.

STEP #4 Know when to call in the “big guns”

There are times when even the best of efforts to help the jobseeker fall short. The draining aspects of depression can leave a person impaired and unable to progress. Involving a qualified mental health provider can help the jobseeker overcome those barriers that they have lost the ability to overcome themselves.


About kimberlyjmyers

I am a workforce development professional in Washington State. I have ten years experience working with dislocated workers, vocationally impaired, and people with disabilities on many levels and backgrounds from offenders to non-English speaking refugees from around the world. The One thing the clients I have worked with all had in common: there was some barrier to employment, and I work diligently every day to identify, address and remove those barriers.



  1. Pingback: 30th April,2012 means something? « The Chaotic Soul - April 29, 2012

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