Maintaining Good Mental Health While Searching For a Job

Looking for work (and not getting it) can be one of the toughest periods to go through. Waiting for an employer to get back to you can leave you feeling dejected and helpless. You can often spend days, weeks or even months waiting for someone to respond only to learn that you’ve been unsuccessful. While of all this is completely normal (sadly) in the world of job seeking, for many of us, it can have a major impact on our mental health.

Unfortunately, it’s about as easy to just “get a job” as it is to simply “get over” mental illness. While Kanye West might think of his mental illness as his “superpower“, there are times when it can feel anything but. If you’re struggling with mental illness during your job search, here are some tips you can follow during your search. 

What to Do During the Interview

Another difficult aspect of job hunting with a mental illness is how to handle it during a job interview. During the interview, you will need to stay positive. This can sometimes feel like a challenge for those with a mental illness, especially those with anxiety disorders and mood affective disorders such as depression and bipolar.

Remember, however, that the interviewer is not there to trip you up. If you have gotten to this stage, the employer is obviously fairly impressed with your resume. They want to find out more about you as a person and see what you’re passionate about. Believe this – they want you to fit as much as you do. This is why it’s so important to be yourself. Be positive and focus on demonstrating your knowledge. Here are some tips you can follow though to make yourself more comfortable during the interview process.

1. Relax

Everyone gets nervous before an interview. From teenagers going to their first one to CEOs of multi-national companies. The important thing is to relax beforehand.

Get a new haircut or buy a new interview outfit. Have a nice breakfast (make sure to brush your teeth well!) and get there early. If you want to, you can do a test run of the way to get to the interview the day before. Another good way is to use Google maps to work out what the location will look like from the street. Even something as simple as washing your hands before you walk in can help. Whatever helps you relax, do it!

2. Make a Pre-Interview List

Before you go to an interview, it’s a good idea to make a list of possible interview questions you could be asked. This gives you a chance to prepare some responses and have an idea of what you will do and say. You can take your list in with you – no need to memorise it. The Hiring Manager will be impressed that you’ve prepared so well.

Similarly, it can be a good idea to prepare for things in the interview that could give you anxiety or exacerbate your mental illness. By thinking about possible interactions you could have you can prepare a list of likely scenarios. From there you can work out ways to deal with or avoid certain situations.

3. Know Your Limits

Don’t take on a job or tasks that you know will cause you problems later down the line. It’s much better to raise concerns with the interviewer about certain responsibilities then and there rather than later. The employer may even have ways to adapt the role for you. It’s better to let them know ahead of time, even if it means you don’t get that particular job. This way if they can adjust the role, they’ll let you know. Otherwise you will get the job and find out it isn’t possible to change anything.

4. Don’t Take Rejection Personally

Not getting the job sucks. Not getting it after sending in your resume, going to an interview or even interviews really sucks. However, that doesn’t mean you are incapable of getting a job. It doesn’t even mean you are incapable of getting a job with that same company.

Perhaps there was just another candidate there who blew them away. Maybe they really loved you but you didn’t quite match the skills they were looking for during that application. Whatever the reason is, the best you can hope for is some feedback so don’t be afraid to ask for it. Don’t worry, however, if you don’t get it.  Most times though, getting application feedback from an employer can be like getting blood from a stone.

Otherwise, you just have to try again and know that someone will eventually see that you are the employee they’ve been waiting for. If you take the first rejection to heart you might never look for, and get, that perfect job.

Know Your Rights

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) offers protections for those with mental health issues and ensures your rights to not be discriminated, harassed, or victimised because of your mental health.

You should also be aware of your rights under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. This act stipulates that employers must provide safe and healthy workplaces for their employees. Mental health is covered under this act and the impact of working conditions, instruction giving, and supervision on a worker’s mental health must be considered.

If you do decide to disclose the nature of your mental health to your employer they cannot tell anyone else without your consent. This helps to ensure your privacy whilst still allowing you to open dialogue channels with your boss.

Inherent Requirements

It’s important to understand that most jobs have inherent requirements – tasks that are fundamental to successfully filling the role. Sometimes people don’t have the necessary ability to perform the job and won’t be selected. This isn’t always a case for discrimination. Imagine someone going for a Mandarin translator position without being able to speak the language. If an employer can prove you wouldn’t be able to fulfil the inherent requirements, you won’t get the job so don’t misunderstand rejection for discrimination.

Reasonable Adjustments

An employer is, however, required to make reasonable adjustments to the role that can help someone with a disability complete the inherent requirements. An example might be letting an employee work from home on days when they can’t leave the house. Reasonable adjustments can help ensure that workers are more comfortable and happy in the role and can complete the tasks assigned to them. They also make sense for employers too since it is likely to result in a happier and more productive team.

What Can An Employer Ask Me About My Mental Health?

Employers are allowed to ask about your mental health. However, it must only be for “legitimate reasons” (i.e. it is crucial for the role). This means that an employer can’t ask questions about your mental health if there is no good reason for it.

If you feel like your mental health isn’t closely related to the role you can ask the employer why they are asking. Although this might feel confrontational it gives the employer a chance to explain the role better. They may in fact be a valid reason for asking. If not, you will have given the employer a gentle reminder about inappropriate questions.

Disclosing Your Mental Health Status to Your Employer

Another aspect that can be difficult to overcome is the telling an employer about your mental health challenges. Some people feel that telling a potential employer about them can put them at a disadvantage. There is a definitely an element of that in the hiring process. Although it is illegal to discriminate against someone for having a mental illness it would be difficult to prove that it was the reason you weren’t hired.

On the other hand, by disclosing your condition (at an appropriate time) can help develop an understanding between you and the employer. By having a frank discussion early on in the process you can let them know if you need anything or if they can accomodate you. You might require days off to speak with your counsellor or because of your mental illness would benefit from starting later some days. It would be impossible to discuss this or find ways to work around your illness without disclosing to your emoployer.

Ask for Help

One of the biggest barriers to accessing help for mental illness is removing the negative stigma of mental health. With 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 suffering some form of mental health in their lives, there is no excuse for more understanding in the community. More understanding can help reduce the reluctance to come forward. 

However, the fact remains that if you don’t ask for help and try and deal with it on your own, you are much more likely to experience longer and more severe forms of mental illness. A medical professional such as your GP, a counsellor, or a psychiatrist can help you to understand yourself better and why you might be feeling the way you do. They are in the best position to help you recover from and manage your mental illness.

Online resources such as beyondblue, SANE Australia, and Black Dog are great resources that can give you information about mental illness, offer advice, and put you in contact with professionals and other people with similar situations to you. beyondblue has an affiliate website, Head’s Up, that specifically offers information about mental illness and the workplace. There are also online assessment tools that can help you have a better understanding of what you’re experiencing.

Talking to friends and family is a good idea too. They might have even noticed changes to your personality in the last few weeks or months. However, be aware that it can sometimes feel hard approaching friends and family about mental illness. Sometimes they aren’t properly equipped with the skills to give you the level of help you need. This is why it’s good to speak to trained people like doctors who know the best current methods to help you.

Catch-22

Getting a job with a mental illness can be difficult. Combined with some employers’ reluctance to discuss mental health issues, it can feel impossible to get through the interview stage.

The longer that you are unemployed, the greater the chance your mental health will suffer. In fact, studies have shown that multiple periods of unemployment can lead to continued declines in mental health. This leaves unemployed people in a bit of a tricky spot.

They struggle to get a job because of their mental health. Meanwhile, the longer they are out of work the worse the situation becomes for them. It’s a lose-lose situation. However, this process will end and it’s important to stay positive during this time. Staying positive will not only help your job seeking but can help with your mental health.

Keep Active

One of the most important things to do during this process is to stay positive. It can be hard though to stay positive if it feels like you have been twiddling your thumbs for weeks. A lot of people who are unemployed find it difficult trying to fill their days while waiting to hear back from employers.

Having something to do that gets you out of the house, into contact with people, and takes your mind off job hunting. It can be anything as long it is something you like doing and makes you feel better afterwards. Things like:

  • Looking after a pet
  • Physical exercise (especially team sports)
  • Cooking or baking
  • Painting
  • Knitting

Volunteering can also be a valuable way to spend your days that can give you marketable skills. Volunteering looks great on resumes and can be something you talk about during your interview.

Another option is to continue working (if possible) at your current job. Even just a few days a week. Not only will this keep you in contact with people who might be able to help you get a job, it will give you a reliable source of income. Looking for work becomes much easier when money is not an immediate concern. You can always leave that job once you line up the next job.

The fact is, the longer you remain unemployed though the more your resilience will be chipped away. That’s why it’s so important to reach out to others, including medical professionals, for support.

It Will Come to An End

As much as being in the situation of looking for a job can feel like a never-ending saga, it will end. Eventually you will find an employer that thinks you are perfect for them. Hopefully they one of the growing number of employers that are actively trying to reduce and support incidents of mental health in their workplace.

Focus on the things you can control during this period and know that support is out there for you. Although the job hunting process can often feel like a lonely one, it doesn’t have to be.

Tell Me

Is there anything I forgot to mention? Do you have any tips for staying mentally healthy during your job search. Let me know below.

2 Comments

  • Garnet

    Great article :),

    I experience anxiety especially in interviews and always have to remind myself to breathe, deeply and slowly and to pause between sentences as I can end up taking shallow breaths and talking very rapidly if I don’t.

    I do a lot of breathing meditation, which you can do anywhere, walking on the bus etc. It’s the most portable method for emotional regulation that I know.

    Their are plenty techniques that you can access online or via aps etc

    🙂

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Garnet, thanks for your reply.

      I agree, breathing is one of best ways to help regulate your emotions. It’s free, easy, and like you said – portable. I love your idea of pausing between sentences too. Not only does it help to calm you down and slow your sentences, I bet it gives you a bit extra time to think about what you’re saying.

      Thanks for the great advice,

      Matt

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