Looking for work isn’t easy at the best of times, but it can be even harder when we’re depressed. Depression can drain our concentration, steal our confidence and zap our self-worth, which makes job-hunting a real challenge.
In this post, we’ve pulled together some ideas and resources to make the process of looking and applying for work a little easier. We hope it helps.
We are not alone
Searching for jobs can be very lonely. It’s exhausting and tiring to constantly feel like we have to prove ourselves to people and tell them how awesome we are (especially if we’re not feeling so sparkly inside). And it’s disheartening and hard to talk about any rejections we may face.
In the UK, 85% of people out of work have experienced a mental health problem compared to 66% of people who are in work. It’s likely that many of these will have depression too, and will be actively searching for work. It doesn’t make the practicalities of job hunting any easier, but it’s comforting to know that we are not alone.
Before We Start Looking
Before we start looking for work, we need to consider what kind of jobs we’d like to apply for. This can be tricky because depression makes it hard to think clearly and logically. Our brains may also be telling us we’re unemployable, and that we’ll never be happy in any kind of job.
To help clarify our thinking, it can be useful to have an employment ‘brain dump’. We can list out all the things we need from a job, both emotionally and practically. This might include things like:
- What the job involves – if we want to work in a shop, then do we mind what kind of shop? Do we want to work behind a till or elsewhere in the building?
- Environment – do we want to work from home? In a nursery? In an office?
- Colleagues – would we prefer to work alone or in a team? Can we cope with big open-plan offices, or would we prefer something more intimate?
- Hours – do we feel able to work full-time or is part-time more feasible? Do we want to work 9-5 or have a bit more flexibility? Does our medication mean we would struggle to work early in the day?
- Finances – how much do we need to make to cover our outgoings? Will the hours we work affect any benefits we receive? Will we end up spending more on childcare than we make in our job?
- Family life – how will having a job work around our families? Do we need to be finished by 3 to pick the kids up? Or able to pop home in our lunch hour to walk the dog?
- Location – do we want to be able to cycle to work or would other transport be okay? Would we move house if our dream job came up elsewhere, or are we settled?
- Preferences and skills – what work do we enjoy? Where do our strengths lie? What kind of tasks/people/situations are difficult for us?
Values – are we keen to work for a particular kind of organisation or in a particular kind of role – say, a non-profit or a supporting role? Are there any kinds of employers we definitely wouldn’t want to work for? Does our employer need to be disability positive?
While we may not find a job that ticks every single box, it’s useful to know what our ideal employment situation might look like. That way we have somewhere to start from. Further down the line, we might also be able to ask our employer (or prospective employer) whether a job role can be altered slightly to better suit our needs.
Even if we’re not yet able to start applying for positions, there are things we can do to help us prepare for work. Some of these ideas might feel daunting, especially as depression saps our confidence and motivation. But we don’t need to do everything at once – even the smallest steps can lead to big change. Plus taking proactive action can boost our self-esteem.
Volunteering is a great way to get ready for work. It can build up our confidence, and offer experience of working in a sector that could be completely new to us. Because we’re giving our time, it can feel a little less pressurised than paid employment – which is super helpful when we’re anxious. Volunteering gives us the chance to try lots of different things and work out what it is that we enjoy, without the commitment of full-time employment. It’s also a great way to make new connections and meet like-minded people – who may be able to help us when we’re looking for paid work.
Do-it share a whole range of volunteering opportunities from a variety of different organisations. For those under 25, vInspired are also great. More locally, we could look for different opportunities on noticeboards in our local papers, supermarkets, or community centres. At Blurt, we offer volunteer facilitator roles, and other charities probably have volunteer roles on their site, too.
National Careers Service
National Careers Service is a government website designed to help with getting into employment. It has profiles for over 800 types of job, with the requirements and routes into work for each role. This can help us assess whether a job might be right for us, and whether we need to bolster our qualifications, experience or training before making applications.
The website also has a skills health check section, with quizzes and activities to help explore our skills, interests and motivation, and see what work might suit us. It also has a useful search function for different courses and learning providers.
Building Up Experience
If we’re interested in a particular field of work, there are things we can do ourselves to build up experience. For example, if we enjoy writing, we can start a blog. If we want to become a nursery nurse, we can look for babysitting opportunities. If we want to be a make-up artist, we can start building an online portfolio of our looks.
Taking this approach means we get to set the terms of our own development. We can work on our projects on our good days, and give ourselves time out on the difficult days.
Keep LinkedIn Up To Date
If we have the brain space, building and maintaining a LinkedIn profile can be a real help when job hunting. Sometimes employers use LinkedIn to scout for new staff and share job opportunities. It’s also a useful resource to build a CV from, collect recommendations and keep a portfolio of any work we’ve done.
Know our rights
Long-term mental health problems are classed as a disability, and as such those of us with them are protected under the Equalities Act. It’s important to know our rights before applying for work as they extend to the interview and application process.
Applying for Work
Applying for lots of jobs can feel like everything is up in the air and all over the place, which can be really stressful! Getting organised – in whichever way suits us best – can help to reduce that feeling a little.
Keeping a list of all the jobs that we’ve applied for and the ones that we’re planning on applying for can help keep overwhelm at bay. We might want to bookmark or print job descriptions to keep with it. If we struggle with our memory, a diary or calendar can be very useful for storing application deadlines and interview dates.
The night before an interview, remembering to do things like getting our clothes out, packing our bag, making a packed lunch, and getting an early night can all help us to feel a little more settled.
Fake It ‘Til We Make It
If we don’t feel particularly confident – that’s okay! Most people will feel nervous when applying for jobs, and depression and anxiety (and the panic and self-doubt that come with them) can make it infinitely harder.
Some people find that acting ‘as if’ can be a helpful tactic. As we write applications or go to interviews, we can pretend to be confident and calm and self-assured – a new version of ourselves. Nobody has to know that inside we’re shaking.
Time to Recover
Writing applications and going to interviews can be exhausting. When we have depression, we are likely to get more tired and wrung out than the average person. As such it’s vital we show ourselves compassion and take time to chill out, switch off and recover.
Coping with rejection
Rejection is part of any job hunt. Very few people will get every single job they apply for. Coping with rejection isn’t easy, especially when our self-confidence is already low. It’s worth remembering that applications and interviews aren’t about testing our worth as a person, they’re about matching the right person with the right job. Getting rejected from a job doesn’t mean that we are a bad person or a failure, it simply just means that the job wasn’t right for us. Sometimes, we might even go to an interview and decide that having met the organisation, we don’t want the job – and we might reject them rather than the other way around.
If we think it would be helpful, we can request feedback after an interview. This can be really useful because it can give us a foundation to build on when making future applications.
Our health comes first
Living with depression can be a job in itself. Looking for work on top of managing our condition can feel exceptionally difficult. If we’re struggling with job hunting, we need to remember how hard we are already working. We can only do what we can do, and over-exerting ourselves can be harmful. Finding work is important, obviously – but our health has to come first.
Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can offer support around getting into employment, and how it might affect our benefits. They offer appointments in person as well as having some information online.
Local universities and colleges will often offer ‘widening participation’ courses, which would be worth a look if we need to gain certain qualifications or top up on our training for the job that we want.
The Job Centre is there to help and support people into employment. They will often have disability advisors and might operate the ‘work choice’ programme; a programme designed specifically for helping disabled people into work.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists have some incredibly detailed resources surrounding employment and mental health.
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