Unemployment and Mental Health

Job hunting is kind of like the first circle in the unemployment hell. You trawl the different recruitment websites every day in the hope that something new or something you actually have experience for comes up. You feel guilty that you’re not spending all of your waking hours looking for jobs, filling in application forms or polishing your CV. It weighs your brain down, it’s all you can think about and you kick yourself again and again for not trying harder, for not sending more applications, for failing to get an interview. You become exhausted and burn out and it’s a struggle to get out of bed, to summon the energy to switch the computer on and look again.

At least that’s how I experience unemployment. It’s an ongoing gnawing in the back of my head that I’m falling behind, that I’m failing, that 30 years ago, my parents were married and had a house by my age. I am privileged, I admit that I am. I am white, I have two degrees, and I have enough money saved to mean that I don’t need to sign on just yet. I am lucky enough to live at my parents’ house rent free whilst I am looking for jobs. But I am still depressed and still very angry that I feel like I am fighting a losing battle whenever I send an application off.

I have a folder full of rejected applications saved on my computer. At present, the number of documents inside this folder is 67, though this won’t be everything I’ve sent off. I’ve told myself that I’m keeping them so that I have a foundation already there for when I write new applications. Though I think I’m keeping them to keep myself bitter and cynical –a badge of how well I’m failing and a proud finger to the world to prove that life is hard for a graduate. If unemployment has taught me anything, it’s to swear more and get angrier quicker.

There is so much I could say on this topic and so many different paths I could go down, so I’m going to focus on the social side of unemployment and the impact it has had on my mental health.

The first rule of being a healthy, happy person is ‘don’t compare yourself to others’. This is obviously easier said than done and, if you are the youngest sibling like me, then the chances are people would have made the comparisons for you. In the months after finishing my MA, I saw those I had graduated with get jobs or move jobs, move out of their parents’ and some move in with their partners. It would take me 8 months to finally get my first post uni job. Humans are naturally selfish beings and, although I was really happy for my friends to get the jobs they wanted and we were all wanting different things so there was no way I was ever competing with them for the same job, there was still a little voice in my head that said “why them and not me?”. I am not a saint. I get jealous.

Christmas was the hardest time for me. There was pressure to meet up with friends, to spend money on said meet ups and on presents. I hadn’t seen those I had graduated with in several months and all of them had jobs or were still in education. I dreaded seeing them because I thought the conversations would just revolve around their working lives and that I would have to explain several times that I was unemployed and was still living with my parents. And whilst this was a topic of conversation, it wasn’t the focus of the entire night like I was dreading, though I still found it hard to drag myself out of isolation and engage with those around me.

In order to save on money for presents, I decided to make/bake gifts for friends. Not only did it give me something to during the day outside of applications, I could also put a bit more effort in to make something more meaningful. I also found a really supportive group of friends whilst volunteering at The Storybook Cafe who I could talk to about literally anything and I didn’t feel like I was falling behind.

If you feel comfortable speaking up and telling others about your experience of unemployment, I guarantee that there will be those among your friendship group who have very similar experiences and that there will be support. Otherwise, if you belong to a big group of friends, be mindful that not everyone in that group will have had a smooth journey to employment and look at doing activities which are free or don’t cost very much. If you have the money to travel and see a friend that can’t afford to get out of the house, then make plans. Or if you all have a bit of money then look at meeting up somewhere you can all get to quite cheaply to spread the costs. Unemployment can easily make you feel isolated and cut off, especially if you live in a rural area. Reach out to those you haven’t seen or heard of in a while and make some plans.

Returning to unemployment after a period of employment is currently the stage I’m at and summer is notoriously crap for new jobs to be popping up whilst everyone is on holiday. My partner has also had to move back home after graduating and is now also looking for a job. We’re stressed, cut off, and tired. Our conversations now mostly rotate around how frustrating job hunting is and how tired we are. We still love each other very much, and tell each other often, but our silences are less comforting and more “I genuinely have nothing to say”. He is the person I most regularly talk to but when a conversation has dried up, neither of us have the energy to pick it back up until something happens. I worry for his mental health and he worries for mine. All we want is to get jobs and move in together but at the moment, that all feels a bit like a pipe dream. It’s hard not to fall into a pit of despair and worry that the path you’ve taken will not lead to the future you want but, especially in my case, that’s all come from setting myself deadlines for achieving things.

Depression and unemployment can very easily go hand in hand. I’m not a professional therapist so I can’t offer any advice on how to overcome either, but if you take a look at the blog, there will be websites and phone numbers of services which can help. In my case, what’s helped me the most is doing small achievable projects. Sometimes that’s going for a run or doing some exercise, other times it could be reading a book, finishing a game, or starting a sewing project. It may seem obvious but taking a break from applications and doing something other than job hunting will be pretty good for your mental health. And if you feel up to it, doing something like volunteering is a great way to get you out of the house whilst also giving you skills which could get you a job further down the line. And remember, you are not alone. Unemployment can happen to literally anyone and it is not your fault or any reflection on you. Things will be okay.

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