Job Search Depression Is Real, And We Need to Talk About It
Anyone who has spent time out of work, or looking for a change in employment, knows that the job search process can be very stressful. You spend hours polishing your resume, writing cover letters, and filling out applications, only to face multiple rejections. The stress of it will get to you eventually. But can an extended job hunt really cause depression? Disturbingly, the research seems to suggest that it can.
Job Hunting and Mental Health
A 2013 study conducted by Gallup found that the longer adults in the U.S remain unemployed, the more likely they were to display signs of low psychological well-being. According to the study, one in five Americans who remains unemployed for more than a year has sought treatment for depression (Figure 1). The study also concluded that unemployed Americans are twice as likely to suffer from depression, compared to individuals with full-time jobs.
A separate study, conducted in 2010 and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has dubbed the issue a ‘public health concern’, especially amongst young adults, and concludes that unemployed Americans are three times as likely to suffer from depression. To quote Mason Cooley, “Unemployment diminishes people”. And when you add job hunting anxiety of job hunting to this mix, the impact on your mental health is only going to get worse.
Why Job Hunting Can Get to You
Adrian Lindblad, a recent graduate, describes the job search process as “demoralizing”, stating that the frequent rejection makes him feel like, “there is something fundamentally wrong with me”. Adrian completed his undergraduate degree in 2020, entering into a job market that was suffering from twin ailments of an economic recession and a global pandemic. Speaking on the experience, Adrian says, “There were two things that would get to me every time. First, it was the number of applications that were rejected before I even scored an interview. Second, it was the anxiety and nervousness I felt when preparing for an interview because, by about six months into the process, I had a hard time convincing myself that I had anything to offer to potential employers”.
The feelings of anxiety and inadequacy that Adrian speaks about are a common fallout from long-term job hunting. While in a depressed state, your mind lies to you and tells you that you have no skills, no talent, and that you have nothing to contribute. Naturally, such feelings are going to hinder your ability to appear confident in interviews and market yourself. Thus, you end up caught in a vicious cycle of low self-esteem, leading to bad interview performances, which in turn, compounds your feelings of inadequacy. This feedback mechanism creates a conundrum where the longer you go without landing a job, the harder it weighs down on your mental and emotional health.
Coping with Job Search Depression
One of the real problems associated with this form of repeated rejection is that none of us are prepared for it, or trained in any way to deal with it. Nothing ever prepares us for the travails of job hunting. Society has conditioned our minds by rewarding the winners. We are told to deal with failure positively, but no one teaches us how to apply this in real life. When faced with successive job rejections, we equate them with our personal failures. It is no longer our resume that is being rejected; rather our identity and sense of self.
The dilemma of prolonged unemployment escalates further when you are a caregiver or have medical bills to take care of, which is exactly what millions of US citizens had to endure in 2020, owing to the repercussions of the pandemic. All of these issues are compounded making it hard to stay positive and keep trying. How then, do we cope with this rejection in a healthy way?
1) Remember that it is not just happening to you.
As much as it may seem that you are stuck in a bizarre rut, while everyone around you has it made, the truth is that these feelings of anxiety, fear, stress, and depression are more common than we know. It can be especially hard to remind yourself of this as the pandemic has pushed us all into our own cocoons of uncertainty and doubt without regular contact with others.
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, there are 18 million people currently unemployed in the US alone. There is a high likelihood that many of them might be feeling disappointed or demotivated by their predicament. You are not alone in this battle.
2) Remember that you are so much more than just your job
According to Dawn Norris, professor of sociology and author of Job Loss, Identity, and Mental Health, the loss of personal identity is a key factor behind job search depression. She believes that “if your identity is threatened, you need an identity-based solution.”
You need to realize that who you are is more than just what job you do. Remember that your personality is made up of a variety of different experiences, ideas, interests, perspectives and not just defined solely by your resume. Lean into these other aspects of your personality, use them to set personal goals, and try to rebuild your confidence along the way.
Stop taking rejection personally. The companies that you reach out to don’t know you. All they get to see is a document that highlights your career. Rejection here has nothing to do with your worth as a person but simply the hiring manager’s opinion on your ability to fulfill a role.
3) Understand that there are ingrained flaws within the recruitment system
Recruiters are human too and occasionally fall prey to affinity biases, expectation anchors, and other unconscious failings. Faults in the recruitment process can occasionally lead to good applications being rejected by mistake. A lack of communication between hiring managers and decision-makers, poorly organized interviews, even badly thought-out job advertisements can lead to mistakes being made. In situations where a large number of candidates have applied for the same role, it is possible for resumes to sometimes fall through the cracks and go unnoticed.
If you feel such a mistake has been made, then you could try reaching out to the recruiter or the hiring manager to check on the progress of your application. But keep in mind that these appeals may not always be successful.
4) Don’t be afraid to reach out
Sometimes a good chat is the best remedy for a tough emotional situation. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or depression over the job hunt, reach out to someone you feel comfortable talking to. It could be your family, friends, colleagues, or even a professional therapist. Therapists and psychologists have special training and can help you find ways to cope with the situation you are in.
People are often hesitant to share their job search-related anxieties for fear of seeming unconfident. But a problem shared is always a problem halved.
5) Revel in the little wins
Who said a moving goalpost is a bad thing? Life constantly throws challenges at you that you cannot plan for. When the big plans don’t work out, try focusing on the little plans instead. Try learning a new skill or language. Look for local volunteering opportunities—it is a great way to engage in some feel-good activity while scoring brownie points on your resume. You could even brush up on your reading and broaden your perspective. The key is to keep learning and adding to your experience; both personal and professional.
It is important to acknowledge that an extended job hunt is a rabbit hole that could impact your mental and emotional health. Only through acceptance can we find a way to deal with the situation, and possibly, get out of it. Whenever you feel like your job search has hit a wall, take a deep breath and remember:
You are NOT ALONE. Job hunting and its consequent frustrations are among the most common experiences of any individual entering the job market. Everybody goes through them. And job search depression is a natural by-product of this frustration. Even when it gets you down, know that we have all been in this same boat at some point in our careers.
If you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out. It could be your family, friends, your therapist, or anyone else you consider a support system. Identify the people in your life who you can speak to, and try to speak to them. You could also try the anonymous helpline numbers available below if you need to speak to someone urgently but cannot figure out who.
Finding a job is tough at any stage of life. Whether you are an entry-level job seeker, fresh out of college, or you are an experienced professional looking for a new opportunity, the job search process is tough for all.
But what is important is that you find ways to move forward and learn something new from every rejection you have faced. Persistence and preparation always pay off. Your dream job is waiting around the corner. Don’t give up.
The author of this blog is not a mental health professional. If you are suffering from any of the mental health conditions mentioned above, we advise you to get in touch with a medical professional. You can also find help at:
IDHS: Help is Here, Talk to Someone- https://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=123539]
Mental Health America- https://mhanational.org/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America- https://adaa.org/
NAMI Chicago- https://www.namichicago.org/resources
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