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.


  1. SMoriah on April 3, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I lost my job a couple months ago, but was on anti-depressants prior to this. I actually like working, but am no longer motivated to work, or even look for work, due to self-esteem, prior micromanagement in the workplace, and general management problems in how they treat their employees. There is no more passion left to entice me to work anymore. Anyone else have experience with this?

  2. […] Earlier this week, we received this comment at the blog, on a blog post from 2006 called “Depression and Job Search”: […]

  3. micky mouse on April 9, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I was unfairly dissmissed for bullying someone i didnt and turned aggainst by the people that i worked with for years. I run my own business now but struggle with deppression. I am seeking work again but i fear my trust has been abused for good.

  4. pam on May 12, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I am stuggling with confusion, lack of self esteem, self motivation, and interest in finding work after being let go from a job in a career I had worked hard to prepare for. I did not do anything wrong that I know of – except reach my mid fifties. Now I am at home feeling outcast and embarassed. I have to let go of what I worked so hard for and know that self pity is never a solution. But this is really hard to deal with.

  5. […] 2002 study at the University of Michigan found “that secondary stressors of job loss such as financial strain and loss of personal control […]

  6. Career-Resumes Blog on June 1, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    […] in August of 2006, a post titled “Depression and Job Search” debuted on the blog, and nearly two years later, it’s still striking a chord. (As an aside to […]

  7. Dee on June 27, 2008 at 7:35 am

    I have been unemployed for nearly a year. I was depressed before I was laid off. I have difficulty getting out of bed–I feel I am getting worse–the financial strain is terrible. I cannot push myself.

  8. […] that this is easy for everyone in every situation – the comments we’ve received on our “Depression and Job Search” blog post attest to […]

  9. Lillian on August 23, 2008 at 10:52 am

    I know how you all feel; it’s terrible being unemployed and worrying about whether or not I will have money to pay next months bills. Should I sell my house or will I lose it or will I find a job in time?? I’m wearing the same clothes over & over again because I don’t want to spend a penney on anything that is not a necessity. I hate going to interviews and trying to impress them that I’m good for the job knowing that I was fired from my job. Worst still is when the interviewer asks for reasons why you r looking for work; were you let go or did you leave, etc., etc.

  10. Kath on October 18, 2008 at 6:33 am

    I had an illness for 2 months and was off work.When I returned,I was given a welcome back cake,and the next day,they laid me off.I am devastated .I cant stop crying.I miss my coworkers.They told me to come back and visit and when I did ,they were very cold to me.I feel like I am going to go crazy.

  11. Jenni on November 6, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I was let go just two days ago. I feel that everything will be “ok” if I just found something else. I would love to connect with any recently laid off people so that we can support each other and vent. Please post an email or a telephone number and I will contact you. As far as my fears… I don’t want to get depressed. I think I may have had post-partum anyway before my lay off. Thanks for reading and God bless.

  12. Jenn on December 4, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I quit an executive level position when I learned a subordinate employee (who had succeeded in getting the previous person in my position fired) was working behind the scenes to get me fired–all while telling me she “loved me,” and saying we had to work together and trust one another. When I quit, the Board unanimously voted to fire her, recognizing they had a problem. I then offered to stay but was not welcome–if their beloved Shirley had to go, then I had to go to. I am sinking deeper and deeper into depression with each day. There isn’t a day tht goes by that I don’t end up crying. I’m in my 50s. Age descrimintion does exist. And my professional field is so narrow and limited in the area in which I live. My husband is patient, but he doesn’t deserve this. I’m frightened, scared, hurt, don’t trust anyone anymore, don’t want to leave the house, don’t wank to talk to anyone. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

  13. Jason Alba on December 5, 2008 at 7:30 am

    A number of concerns mentioned in the comments are indications that you might want to consult with a health care professional.

    I wrote a post about depression in the job searchon the JibberJobber blog and a number of commenters indicated that getting medical help was very beneficial.

  14. Lisa Dames on December 5, 2008 at 7:58 am

    I was fired on Nov 17 after being made the scapegoat for reduced revenue at a very small DME supply business. The office had 5 employees, one “office mgr” and the owner who was indeed the female version of Ebinezer Scrooge – we all were treated like bad children most of the time so I should be happy to have been “let go” but the MO of the “mgmt team” is to build up a case against a fired individual so even getting unemployment is a challenge if not impossible. I am scared: at age 52 after being a hard worker for over 25 years in the medical office world, I feel I have nothing to offer but the other problem is I have a 5 year old daughter (surprise baby) and so I have to work since my husband does not earn enough on his own. This is an awful situation. I am fighting for my unemployment benefits, my self esteem and a new job in spite of the “bad rep” for having been “fired”. Why is the employee ALWAYS wrong in the eyes of the work force and government agencies?