A CYCLE OF FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY – MENTAL HEALTH AND JOBHUNTING

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By Liam Hawkes

“You interviewed well but unfortunately we just didn’t feel that you were right for this particular position.”

These are the words that no one seeking employment wants to hear. Looking for a job, especially during times of uncertainty and instability, can be a terrifying prospect. My own recent experience of this has got me wondering about the connection between job seeking, rejection and our mental health.

Uncertainty and rejection in job seeking  is perhaps a massively overlooked and serious contributor to depression, anxiety and many other mental health problems. Although unemployment in our country is at an 11-year low,  it is still important to discuss the detrimental effects job seeking can have on our state of mind as there are still large amounts of people suffering in silence. The job seeking lifestyle and its unavoidable experiences of rejection can both cause and exacerbate unhealthy behaviours and reactions.

Looking for a job, especially during times of uncertainty and instability, can be a terrifying prospect

Right now, as I write this, I’m sitting here with six tabs open in my browser of different job applications from a variety of recruitment sites. They’ve been open for two days now and I haven’t submitted a single one. Why is this? Is it because of the rejection I faced earlier this week? Is it the mounting financial pressure as I try to sustain my current living situation? The truth is that it’s probably a mixture of all of these questions as well as many more. They’re all rolled up into a toxic cocktail of anxiety and depression where the two feed each other and force inaction in a cyclical pattern that can easily spiral down into not leaving bed for days on end.

Once such a cyclical pattern has started, how the hell do you make it stop? When it takes every inch of your mental capacity to even write a short description or cover letter for your would-be employer, how on earth can you force yourself to do so over and over? This is something that people who haven’t yet experienced debilitating mental health issues will struggle to understand. The sheer amount of effort needed for doing even the most menial of tasks is exhausting. It makes even a single application feel like an insurmountable cliff. That’s been my experience, and I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’m holding down two part time jobs already.

Ultimately the most terrifying aspect of this kind of situation is that our fate in the treacherous seas of the job market seems to be entirely up to ourselves. You feel isolated, unstable and alone, and you feel that this suffering is your own fault. It’s all well and good saying that we should respond to rejection by thinking positively and extracting some good points from unsuccessful applications or interviews, but this doesn’t actually address the root of the problem, which is that your mental health will still be in a state of disarray no matter how many positive bullet points you can write on your self-evaluation.

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Credit: sometimestherearerobots.com

The typical advice given when faced with rejection in jobs is pretty stoic. “You just have to get on with it,” people say. “Don’t give up – keep trying.” However true these cliches might be, they don’t acknowledge the struggle that is involved in the process, and often are said in a such a way they trivialise the serious issues that someone can be facing. Far from being constructive, these words can come across as empty and void of any real empathy. The feeling of exposure as you type your life’s achievements into one or two sides of A4 – just for someone to quickly scan and then make a decision which could have a serious impact on your future – is crushing. It can feel like standing naked in the middle of a busy street for strangers to judge.

The attitude that job seeking is a mere bump in the road, something that should just be stoically blazed through, is as unhelpful as it is inaccurate. Why this picture is maintained is a bit of a mystery – especially when every person with a job has likely struggled with this at one time or another.  Part of the answer can be found in the continuing stigma around mental health and the workplace, with 48% of people saying that they would feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about their mental health. Undoubtedly, job seekers feel this too. Indeed, the increased uncertainty of their situation can only serve to increase this stigma. Times are changing and more and more people can talk about their mental health, but still so much is left unsaid.

However true these cliches might be, they don’t acknowledge the struggle that is involved in the process

The truth is that employment can provide a wealth of possibilities for those who suffer from mental health problems: stability, social experience, learning opportunities, and structure. These are all key things that people need to be able to effectively overcome their problems. But this truth is stained with the deep irony that the things that can be most effective in helping with mental illness seem like the things are the most unattainable for sufferers. The barrier between ‘us and them’ just seems too great.

I haven’t got a solution to this. I just know that it is certainly time to recognise that support and guidance should not be undervalued when looking for jobs. This can begin with increasing the compassion and understanding of people looking for jobs, a more genuine empathy on the part of employers and the employed. Ultimately, those who are struggling to find not just a job, but also find their own happy states of mind, should not feel that this is a burden that needs to be carried alone.

Featured image via resume.com

2 thoughts on “A CYCLE OF FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY – MENTAL HEALTH AND JOBHUNTING

  1. —Part of the answer can be found in the continuing stigma around mental health and the workplace

    I believe you have missed the mark, may I offer a correction:

    : —Part of the answer can be found in our training people that there is a stigma around mental health

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