Depression and Job Search

If I said that depression is often predicated by job loss and long-term unemployment, most of you would say, “Well, DUH!” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots on that assumption. What many people don’t realize is that depression actually makes it harder to gain reemployment, thus creating a cyclical spiral-down effect. Often, clients who seem to have the most difficulty finding new jobs have been struggling with depression resulting from their job loss and subsequent unemployment period.

In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, psychologists Richard Price, Jin Nam Choi and Amiram Vinokur of the University of Michigan detail the results of a study they conducted of 756 recently unemployed individuals. Their study seemed to indicate that secondary stressors of job loss such as financial strain and loss of personal control are the true culprits that lead to depression. The study also found that elevated levels of depression “may reduce the likelihood of reemployment.”

So what is depression? Depression is defined as “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked esp. by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” In general, depression is diagnosed in two different senses – one is situation depression or depression that is caused by an event such as a death of a loved one, a divorce, medicinal side effects, or a job loss. The second is clinical depression, a condition that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Clinical depression may be worsened by events such as a job loss but usually antedates the event. Depression is NOT a character defect! It is as real an illness as diabetes or heart disease and affects 18.8 million US adults (that’s 9.5% of the population) at some point in their lifetime.

Unemployment produces profound changes in the lives of adults. When laid off, workers experience loss of structured time, valued relationships, status and identity, and loss of goals. Add to these losses the loss of income and increasing financial pressures and you have a prescription for depression in even the strongest, type A personalities.

If you are dealing with depression as a result of a significant event such as a job loss, here are a few things to remember:

One out of every five or six workers is unemployed at some time during each year (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics).

There is no such thing as a career with one company for your entire life anymore so adjust your mental thought processes. If you have been laid off, it’s not unusual.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. Be diligent in your job hunting but also use the windfall of time to get out and help others. Volunteer your time instead of sitting in front of the television. Not only will volunteering help you avoid depression, it will give you a purpose and help extend your network.

Talk to someone. Keeping things all bottled up is the equivalent of mental constipation. It will make you sick eventually. Talk to your family, your spouse, your friends, or your pastor. If you feel you would be more comfortable, talk to a therapist. It is NOT a character flaw to seek a shoulder to vent upon.

Seek help. There are people who are ready to listen and to help.

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