Career/Job Advice

Job Searching and Mental Health

If you are so very fortunate that your personal experiences of looking for work have been short-lived until you landed your job, you probably won’t be able to identify with the frustration people feel when in a prolonged job search. “What’s the big deal? Just keep trying and get working!”

Oh if only it were that simple. There are two basic realities of a job search for anyone; the things you can control and the things you can’t. The real key to understanding why some feel job searching is easy and others find it so intensely stressful still ultimately comes down to the above two realities, but the things one can and cannot control vary from person to person. This variance between people is often at the crux of extending or withholding sympathy and empathy for those in long drawn-out searches.

Such things one can’t control are the number of jobs employers need filled, the application process, and the length of the application process. So let’s say we agreed on those three things to start with. We can’t make employers hire more people, whether an employer has us apply in-person, on-line etc. nor their choice to conduct one or a series of interviews prior to making a hiring decision. Fair enough.

Beyond this, are there other things we cannot control in a job search? For some the answer is yes and for others it’s no. And this variance, this difference of opinion, is where some experience anxiety, frustration and immense pressure while others do not. Consequently those who feel a person should be able to have control over every thing else will have little patience dealing with people who claim to have little control over other factors.

We all handle challenges differently do we not? Take for example being rejected for a job one really wanted. We all might feel let down, disappointed and frustrated. Why is though that this period of time is brief for some and extremely long for others? If some of us can snap out of it, roll up our sleeves and look for other positions to apply to, surely we all have that capacity don’t we? So isn’t it just a question of willpower and attitude? Perhaps and perhaps not. Are there some other factors beyond attitude and willpower (things we can control) which we are not acknowledging?

What about say, mental illness? Surely mental illness is not something one can control as for example ones attitude. Mental illness is not something that is readily identifiable by those we meet nor in fact sometimes by those actually experiencing it. Suppose you awoke one morning with a rash on your arm. You could look at it and say, “Gee I appear to have a rash on my arm. I best get that looked at.” Others you met would say, “I see you have a rash on your arm, here let me help you. Have you had that looked at?”

Now suppose however you awoke one morning feeling down, lethargic and had a prevailing feeling of sadness for reasons that were not immediately clear. Would you look in the mirror and say, “Gee it appears I’ve got abnormal anxiety and depression this morning, I should book an appointment with a Mental Health Counsellor.” And when you met others would they say, “Ah, I see you’re depressed and having some crippling mental health issues beyond your ability to cope with. Have you had that looked at?” Doubtful.

The one thing that is true of two people who are looking for work; one of which has a mental health issue and the other who does not, is that both are coping to control what they can, but with different degrees of success based on what we can observe. So while both may get the email indicating they’ve been rejected in favour of someone else, the one can within a day bounce back and re-focus. The other may appear to wallow in sadness, miss appointments for job search help, even perhaps look to have given in and given up altogether.

It is you see something they have lost the ability to cope with for a period of time the way they once might have done. What was once abnormal has become their new normal. If you are close to this person, you might be profoundly affected by their change. Monitoring the change in someone’s mental health isn’t like keeping an eye on that rash. Where we are qualified to put on some ointment, bathe and cleanse a rash, we are not qualified or even know where to begin to help someone deal with their adversely changing mental health.

And in dealing with person who has a mental health challenge, it might be easier for us to ask them to just snap out of it, tough it out, deal with it, get over it – get back in other words to being the person they were before when we were comfortable with them and knew how to help them. It’s how we deal with our own fears in wanting to help and not knowing how.

A little empathy, kindness, patience and understanding is what is needed. Get a medical check up if you’re out of work and pay attention to changes you might be experiencing. Living with someone you suspect is experiencing some mental health changes? See your own doctor and get helpful suggestions and community referrals.

by Kelly Mitchell

*Re-posted with permission from: