Depression lies. It convinces you that you have no skills, no discernable talents, and no worthwhile contributions to make to the world. Of course those feelings would have the ability to hinder your job search. But being out of work can also increase a person’s overall risk of depression, according to research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines a major depressive episode as any period of time lasting two weeks or more when a person experiences a depressed mood and low energy, concentration, and self-worth, among other things. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, with approximately 17.3 million adults experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the United States in 2017.
So what do you do if you are one of millions of adults who’s experiencing depression and you also happen to currently be looking for work?
1. Prepare for the Rush
In the beginning, committing yourself to finding a job may actually help to ease some of your depressive symptoms. Gloria Mulvihill, a freelance editor and writer for CompareLifeInsurance.com, was diagnosed with clinical depression seven years ago. Just recently, she started looking for more consistent work within her field.
“When I decided to make job searching my full-time job, I felt a rush of positivity and excitement,” Mulvihill says. “I applied for countless positions online, pinging my CV over if I felt there was even the slightest chance of me getting an interview.”
Because depression can come and go in waves for some people, it’s possible you’ll convince yourself you’re past this most recent bout of symptoms in light of the excitement you feel.
2. But Know That the Initial Excitement Can Fade
Unfortunately, job searches can be grueling—even without the added challenge of dealing with depression. And those initial feelings of excitement may fade; they did for Mulvihill.
“I would have days where I couldn’t get out of bed because in my head all I could think about was how hopeless the whole situation was and how undesirable I was in all aspects of my life. This, of course, led to a lack of productivity, which made me anxious and sent me into a further depressive spiral,” she says. “Depressive episodes are the quickest ways to drain me of my mental fortitude and emotional stability.”
What Mulvihill experienced is not uncommon, especially because job hunting often involves frequent rejection. “Suffering from depression while looking for a job can lead to feelings of defeat and worthlessness, which are not healthy ways to think about yourself,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified mental health consultant for Maple Holistics. “The longer it takes you to get hired, the harder it will be for you to pick yourself up and get out of bed each day.”
3. Use Your Tools
If you’ve been dealing with depression for a while, you likely know by now what helps you to get through your hardest episodes.
For Mulvihill, that’s medication and therapy. “I have been taking Zoloft for a couple of years now, so making sure that I stayed on that medication and took it regularly helped keep me balanced and able to cope with most of the ups and downs.” Meanwhile, she’s been seeing the same therapist for 10 years, and says it was through therapy that she learned the coping skills she needed to get through the job hunt.
Your toolbox for getting through depressive episodes may include exercising every day, maintaining a schedule, or ensuring you get a set number of hours of sleep every night. Whatever helps you to keep your head above water, make sure you’re prioritizing it during your job hunt.
And if dealing with depression is new to you and you haven’t quite figured out what your best tools are, start by visiting a therapist and working on building up your toolbox together.
4. Build a Support System
Being out of work—or stuck in a job that makes you miserable—would be difficult for anyone. Add in clinical depression, and the hard days can seem even more impossible to get through. But having people to rely on and talk to can help.
“You need to have a few people around you who will give you the support you need,” says Mahalli. “Looking for a job requires stamina, and you need friends and family supporting you so you don’t give up.”
Your support system can help lift you up when you’re feeling defeated. Friends and family can be great resources to talk to as you work through your depression and your job search, and they can also serve as the much needed reminder that you aren’t alone in any of it. They are your shoulder to lean on, but also your distraction from the overwhelming parts of this process. So turn to them when you need to talk things out before an interview or cry about a hard-hitting rejection and when you want to have dinner and forget all about jobs.
Mulvihill’s support system was part of what helped get her through. “For those times when medication wasn’t enough, I reached out,” she says. “I have some of the best friends anyone could ask for.”
5. Keep Busy
If you’re facing unemployment and dealing with depression, the desire to crawl under your covers and never leave the house again can be strong. After all, your former job was likely one of your main motivators to getting out of bed every morning.
But Mahalli says it’s important to push past that desire to hibernate and to instead create new places you have to be. “Just because you’re unemployed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have anything to do every day. Look for places that need volunteers and make a commitment to get there one or two days a week.”
Research has found that participating in some kinds of regular volunteer work can help to ease the symptoms of depression. And staying busy can prevent you from getting stuck too much in your own head when depression is looming.
“It won’t take away from your job hunt, you just simply won’t plan any interviews for that day,” Mahalli says. “It will also help make you feel capable, and that’s important when you’re trying to fight depression”—not to mention when you’re looking for a job.
6. Create a Schedule (and Stick to It)
Do not make job hunting a 24/7 endeavor. Make sure you schedule time for therapy, self-care, opportunities to recharge with friends or family, and, if you’re between gigs, volunteering time. Establishing a routine can help to keep you motivated when you’re also combating depression.
Stephanie Heath, a former recruitment lead and current job search consultant at Soulwork and Six Figures says, “My clients apply to 10 to 15 positions Monday through Friday and then step away from the job search on weekends.” This type of schedule allows you time to refresh and rest prior to diving back in on Monday.
7. Stay Organized
A job search can be overwhelming under the best of circumstances and is often made even more so by the symptoms of depression. For instance, depression can have a negative impact on memory, which might lead you to forget details you need to remember in order to make the best impression during your job hunt.
That’s why Mahalli suggests picking a method (or methods) to organize your process, perhaps a simple spreadsheet, to help you keep track of where you’ve applied and what the general outcomes have been. “You shouldn’t depend on your memory in cases like this when it can easily get overwhelming.”
8. Know Your Rights
You are not required to disclose your mental health struggles to prospective employers. In fact, the Americans With Disabilities Act considers clinical depression a protected disability, which means you can’t legally be discriminated against because of your depression.
That said, there may be times when you choose to disclose your condition—or when you at least shouldn’t be afraid of hiring managers finding out. This is especially true if you are interviewing with startups and progressive-minded organizations, according to Heath.
“I have personally hired and been hired while suffering from GAD [generalized anxiety disorder] and low-grade depression,” Heath says. “Younger companies are viewing humanity, including its diseases, from a more empathetic, humanistic lens.”
9. Recognize When (and How) to Share
Your struggle with depression, and the tools you’ve used to manage your mental health, can actually be framed in a positive light to prospective employers, Heath says. But she cautions that you should do so only if the question you’re being asked in an interview warrants it. So, for instance, you might bring up your experiences in response to a question about your biggest personal lesson or struggle.
By sharing what you’ve learned in dealing with your mental health, Heath says, and “positioning your experience with it as the reason why you are stronger and more equipped to handle the day-to-day problems,” you can actually impress a hiring manager and convince them you have what it takes to do the job at hand.
Again, keep in mind that you are in no way obligated to share this information. But if the opportunity arises, and if you feel comfortable, know there are occasions when being open may actually help you land a job you’ll thrive in. “You’d be surprised at what honesty and an optimistic view toward the future will get you,” Heath says.
10. Practice Self-Care
A job search can be a long and grueling process, and taking care of yourself throughout it is key—whatever that looks like for you.
So plan a night out with a friend to vent and reduce some of your stress. Order takeout and binge your favorite show to help you relax and unwind. Take a long walk with your dogs and follow it up with a warm bath and a good book.
And remember the most important aspect of self-care: Be kind to yourself. “You are not lesser or weak because you have depression or anxiety,” says Mulvihill. “You are human, and it’s OK.”