Coping with Discouragement and Depression during a Job Search
If you’ve been looking for a job for a long time I don’t need to tell you about discouragement. And maybe I don’t need to tell you about depression, the next step. You already know how difficult it is to face another day of failure or rejection in a job search, and/or feeling like a failure as a family provider, or adequacy as a spouse/partner. If you are without spouse or partner or a single parent or provider for a big family, you know how worried you are about how long you can last with little or no income coming in.
You may have already read articles or talked to others who tell you that it’s normal to feel discouraged. So you don’t feel abnormal. Unfortunately, discouragement is beginning to affect your whole life, including your effectiveness in job searching, the issue that got you to this point. If you continue to be discouraged or if you already have a propensity toward emotional downs, or ups and downs, discouragement may gradually turn to depression….or exacerbate existing depression. Symptoms of depression are more pervasive than discouragement, and if something new for you, depression represents an emotional change from how you were before. You may feel sad and have lost interest or pleasure in the normal activities of your life. Over time depression symptoms involve impact on some combination of mood, appetite, sleep, energy, self-esteem, concentration, decision making, and feelings of hopelessness. Depression can be mild; or it can be a severe but highly treatable medical condition.
In my experience of dealing with long term job seekers, whether discouraged or depressed, it’s very difficult to mobilize energy to deal with the situation. That’s why this state of affairs can feed on itself and worsen. So how can you cope and prevent or deal with a downhill slide?
When discouragement is the major issue, finding a good job is the ultimate cure. So, the obvious is to improve your job search strategy or change your job target. If you’ve already done those things you’re on the right track. If you haven’t, hook-up with a career consultant, coach, or counselor who can support and help you.
However, if you have been doing everything above and still haven’t found a job, coping with discouragement is best done with a social support system. Try to find a job support group in your community. My experience as a group facilitator is that support from similar persons in similar situations can have an amazing effect. I have seen people try job search techniques successfully that they never would have done on their own, members who decide on a whole new unexpected path, and others who just by attending a session or 2 have a new perspective on their job search. I have had people stop me in the street 6 months after a single session and tell me how the group helped them feel revived or it helped them get a job. Personally, it’s hard to figure out what they were talking about…..after 1 session and out?? I certainly didn’t do anything. It was the group experience. Pretty cool, don’t you think….the power of social support? If you’ve been reticent about finding a support group, don’t let your discouragement stop you. Look for groups at non-profit agencies, the State Employment Service office, the library, or the local community college. Another coping strategy is to consider a regular exercise program. Research shows that exercise tends to enhance emotional wellbeing. This won’t solve your job search problems, but it can be helpful in counteracting the negative emotions associated with both discouragement and depression.
If a more serious depression is evident, you will be experiencing symptoms beyond discouragement over an extended period. The symptoms may be worsening and affecting most aspects of your life. Others may observe that you are not the same person you once were and you may feel that your self-esteem is at an all time low. If depression is in the early stages, mild, and clearly an extension of discouragement with your career situation, then it is all the more important to seek the social support discussed above. If you cannot muster the energy or enthusiasm to do this, then it’s time to see a mental health professional. Licensed Professional Counselors, Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers, Psychiatric Nurses, and Psychologists are trained to help you get back your emotional equilibrium so you can move on with your life. On the other hand, if you are feeling hopeless and having thoughts of suicide it is most important that you consult with a licensed mental health professional, particularly a Psychiatrist if one is available.You can get a referral from your family doctor or do an internet search for family service agencies in your locale. If you are at the point of seriously contemplating suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1 800 273-TALK). A supportive person will listen and help you. Finally, if action is imminent go to a hospital emergency department to seek medical treatment, or if too distressed to do that, call 911.
While discouragement is inevitable during a long job search, it is important to use early or pre-emptive coping strategies to avoid or counteract a downward spiral toward depression or exacerbation of already existing depression. Obviously this is difficult because in order to keep from falling deeper your actions need to run counter to what you are feeling. Try to be aware of what you are dealing with early and the options you can exercise in getting yourself back on track to effectively working toward an emotional balance and a more positive job search experience.
Steve Simon, Ph.D.
President, CEO, and Career Consultant
Human Services Outcomes, Inc.