How to Manage the Mental Health Effects of Unemployment

Unemployment is difficult, to say the least. 624,000 young people in the UK are unemployed, while 7% (16,730) of graduates were assumed to be unemployed after completing their degree in 2013/14.

In that same year, a third of graduates took jobs as cleaners, office juniors and road sweepers six months after completing their degree. So we can see that, for a lot of graduates, the immediate future after graduating doesn’t look too bright. After completing my degree, I was unemployed for a while, until I found a job as a telemarketer. I didn’t expect to find myself in either scenario with a degree.

Here I will focus on the experience of unemployment. After all, long-term unemployment is linked to mental health issues, including depression.

Since so much of our self-worth is invested in having a job, when we are involved in the demoralising job search – and especially when weeks of searching turn into months – your mental health can suffer. When you’re unemployed, it’s important to follow some tried-and-tested ways to boost your self-esteem, and in turn, improve your mood.



One of the most important things you can do during a job search is stick to a routine. Everyone will come up with a different routine, but habits such as waking up as if you were going to work, and finishing your job search at a specific time, is a good start.

A routine will not only make you more productive in your job search and find work sooner than later, but it means that the routine of waking up early, getting work done and finishing the day at a certain time won’t be so much of a shock when you start a new job.

In addition, the self-discipline you will gain from sticking to your routine is likely to improve your mood.



Goal-setting is part and parcel of routine. It is vital to not just wake up at a certain time, but to wake up with a goal in mind. Again, these goals will vary depending on the person. But a good starting point is deciding roughly how many jobs you aim to apply for every day. Or you might decide that one, thorough and well-thought out job application a day is your target. Either way, you have set out something to achieve. And if you achieve it, it will boost your self-esteem and ward off any intrusive thoughts about being lazy or a failure for being unemployed.

Research points to the fact that progress on our goals makes us feel happier and more satisfied with our life, and this increase in subjective well-being itself makes us feel more motivated to achieve our goals. In other words, goal-setting and happiness reinforce each other.

Of course, goal-setting doesn’t have to be applied just to your job search. Think about all the free time you have whilst being unemployed. As tempting as it may be to use this free time for naps and binge-watching a series, save this for when you finish your day’s work. During the day, you can set a goal to learn a second language, develop a skill, try out a new hobby, or start an online course. All of these activities will boost your self-esteem, and give you something useful and interesting to talk about in a job interview!


One of the greatest losses with unemployment is the loss of meaning and purpose. As outlined above, a disciplined job search and goal-setting can greatly improve your mood, but maybe you still find yourself stuck at home, in need of some meaningful activity and social interaction. Doing some volunteering each week might be the perfect way to satisfy both these needs.

Also, volunteering can massively improve your skill set, connections and even lead to a paid job. This is especially relevant if you are hoping to work in the charity sector. 



Now, you may really hate exercise. The idea of going for a run might seem like torture. However, one study found that physical activity can counter-balance the mental health effects linked to long-term unemployment.

Other studies have concluded that exercise and physical activity have beneficial effects on depression symptoms that are comparable to those of antidepressant treatments.

If you fit in exercise into your routine and goals, you will be more likely to actually do it, and once you realise the benefits, you’ll be more likely to carry on. All of those endorphins that get released from exercise will make you feel a lot better, especially if you’ve been having a rough day.



Don’t worry, meditation has been demystified now. You don’t have to be a monk or call yourself a Buddhist to do it. But if you are unemployed and having mental health issues, it’s worth incorporating into your daily routine. I can highly recommend signing up to Headspace for an easy and simple guide on how to practise meditation.

There is very clear evidence that mindfulness meditation offers a range of mental health benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and low mood.

However long you have been unemployed for, just know that you are not alone, and that there are effective ways to manage your mental health during this difficult time.


Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitent agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internship jobs and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.