Useless, unmotivated and lonely: Unemployment and my mental health

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Jen Allerton.Today is World Mental Health Day, and this year's Young Women's Trust Annual Survey found that there are clear links between mental health and work with 31% of young women saying that their mental health has affected their ability to seek work. Having spent most of the past year unemployed and applying for jobs, I certainly know the added difficulty thrown into the mix by having mental health problems.

Almost exactly a year ago now, I left a placement year in finance with an NHS trust after 4 months. I moved back to my parents' house at the beginning of my placement with the intention of saving up for a rental deposit to move out eventually. Unfortunately, once I started to look for accommodation in the area where my work had relocated, I realised that in order to live close enough to walk or get in by public transport, I would be paying around 60% of my income each month in rent. As a part time student also paying course fees and hoping to have enough saved by the end of a year to at least afford to move again, this just wasn't feasible, so I handed in my notice and started looking for work again.

I’m very grateful to have parents who are able, not to mention willing, to support me. But it would be a lie to say I dreamed of moving back home, or that it has been the best thing for my mental health. As well as my depression and anxiety making the whole application process more of a challenge, being unemployed has a detrimental effect on my state of mind, creating a nasty vicious cycle.

Having a job does make me feel useful and valued, in the best cases challenges me and stimulates my mind and pushes me into daily social interaction with other human beings. Being unemployed stands in almost direct opposition. I feel useless, unmotivated, and lonely. 

The first few weeks were bearable; I had two weeks of temporary freelance work based from home in November with a company I'd worked with before, doing something I really enjoyed. Then Christmas was on the horizon, I had plenty to distract me, and I knew most employers would likely wait until January to focus on recruitment, so I wasn't too worried. The New Year came and went and I got back to my keyboard, determined to write a stellar application for my next job and be independent again by the spring. 

That's not exactly how it went. I was applying for jobs I knew I was qualified for and could do well and for 90% of the jobs I applied for, I was invited to an interview. But then anxiety decided it was time to rear its head. No matter how well I knew I could do the job, or how much experience I had in the field, an interview is an intensely stressful experience for me, and I find it hard to exude the confidence I need to convince someone else I am the woman for the job. Still, sometimes they went well, and I would get good feedback, saying that the interviewers were impressed by me, but "the standard of candidates was very high" and someone else had slightly more experience. Surely I should take all of this as a good sign, and be filled with confidence. But with a lifetime of self-doubt, each time I just missed out made me feel slightly less sure of myself.

Skip forward to today, and although I'm still searching, I'm trying to stay upbeat. I know I have gained valuable experience over the past year in both voluntary and paid work. I've had a number of ups and downs. But even the ups don’t stop my brain being taken over by negative thoughts on my bad days, when I haven't seen friends in ages, when misery seeps in after spending days in a row barely leaving the house. I have an interview this week, and I am prepared. I know the company, I know the sector, I know my strengths, and I know what I still need to learn. I am also prepared for the possibility that I may be writing another 3 applications next week, despite the thought of how mentally exhausting I know it could be.