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Get A Haircut

As a depression sufferer, I’ve struggled all my adult life to find meaningful employment. I made my way waiting tables, answering phones, and working in bookstores. In one job, my most valuable skill was my penmanship. I relabeled thousands of file folders by hand in my perfect printing, so much easier to read than the scribbled, faded, mismatched folders of old. When I finished the last one, they sent me to a sister office across town where they had even shabbier labels on twice as many folders. Six weeks I spent doing this, every moment thinking, “Is this what I went to college for?” If only I’d thought to suggest a label maker. And why didn’t I quit? Because lumbered by depression, I believed I had no choice. What other job could I get with an English Literature degree? Not qualified to work as a writer, teacher, or librarian, I faced more years of expensive education to pursue those options, and with a mountain of debt, a new husband, and a crushing lack of self-confidence, I was overwhelmed, inert, and stuck. They let me go at the end of the summer anyway because I clocked in a few minutes late every day.

It’s well known that mental health patients have more trouble finding and keeping jobs than the population at large, but recent studies are hard to find. The National Library of Medicine lists a 2009 study in which the findings were grim with severely mentally ill patients unemployed at a whopping 54%. Even those at work made far below a living wage with 39% making less than $10,000/year. Among 18–25-year-olds with no mental illness, the unemployment rate was 1%. For those with a severe mental illness, it was 21%. It’s hard to guess how these numbers might have changed in fifteen years, but easy to imagine the trends are much the same. Advice to depression sufferers suggests a range of suitable professions: freelancer, dog-walker or photographer, some say. What about postal carriers, park rangers, or craftsmen? Maybe a librarian, computer programmer, or data analyst.

Good news, for some. There are possibilities, openings, cracks of light. But when I looked at these options, my depression answered for me. Freelancer of what? Freelance agencies/websites want qualifications, portfolios, and references. Photographer? I only take snapshots. Dog walking? I’m insulted. No offense to well-adjusted dog walkers. The fact is, depression and unemployment go together, with 56% of unemployed people reporting an onset or increase of depression and anxiety with the loss of their job. Low energy, lethargy, and poor self-esteem put extra barriers between the sufferer and a return to paid work. Family members wonder how to support a self-
sustaining lifestyle for loved ones unable to break depression’s ugly cycle. I wish I knew. My last paycheck came in 2013 when the bookstore I worked in closed and laid off all its employees. I like to think I’ve been productive in unpaid ways, but my household relies on my husband’s single income. There’s no secret. With God’s help, keep trying. He has a plan and a place for each of us.

A place to start:
National Alliance on Mental Health

This page lists organizations that support employment for those with mental illness, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Supported Employment–Individual Placement and Support (IPS), and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT). Learn more here. 

Make It Ok Toolkit