The coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented job insecurity and job loss. In mid-April 2020, the national unemployment rate reached 14.7 %—the highest since the Great Depression. Fully 41 million American workers filed for unemployment between February and May of 2020. Unprecedented unemployment rates don’t just have an impact on the unemployed, though. For people still employed during the Covid-19 pandemic, job insecurity and financial concern are tied to greater symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to research.

Unemployment And Depression: A Chicken And Egg Cycle

Depression goes hand-in-hand with unemployment and poor work performance, and that can create a vicious cycle. Research shows depression increases the risk of unemployment, and unemployment increases the risk of depression. If you’re gainfully employed and depressed, it can affect your productivity and the trajectory of your career. By the same token, if you’re out of a job, it can be depressing, and the depression can make it more difficult to land new employment.

A new study has found that when depression makes it hard for unemployed workers to find employment, a certain type of therapy can help land a position, especially during the pandemic when millions have lost their jobs. The study enrolled 126 participants diagnosed with major depressive disorder in a 16-week course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression.

CBT is a type of therapy that helps people identify and change their negative beliefs that can lead to defeat and re-frame those beliefs into a more positive perspective that can improve their hope and motivation. When you’re under a lot of job stress, CBT can help you see situations in a different light and make smarter choices in your actions than depression might ordinarily cause you to make. In the study, out of the participants seeking employment, 41% were able to find jobs and improve their ability to focus on and accomplish work tasks by the end of the 16-weeks. The co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University told CNBC Make It, “Depression is the most common psychological disorder, and it’s more common among those with occupational challenges. So, when someone is depressed, the work-related challenges are compounded by the difficulties of being depressed.”

Steps You Can Take To Break The Cycle

With proper treatment, employees with depression get better. If you’re a manager, the key is to help employees access effective care. If you’re someone having depression seek help from your employer or some of the resources below. Meanwhile, self-care is the most important action you can take. Putting on the brakes and temporarily stepping away from work refills your dwindling reservoir, replenishes your mojo and provides an incubation period for embryonic work ideas to hatch. In those moments that might seem empty and needless, strategies and solutions that have been there all along in some embryonic form are given space to come to life.

If your depression is so debilitating that you can’t function at your usual standard, what do you do? Some experts advise you to be careful about what you tell your boss. It could cost you your job. You don’t want your personal life to interfere with your job performance, yet you don’t want management to think depression will prevent you from being up to speed. Your personal life is private, yet your boss’s understanding and support would be a huge relief. You might have a perfectly legitimate reason that you need your boss to understand and hopefully support during the hardship. Although sharing your personal life with your employer is daunting, your wellness is top priority. When you’re facing a difficult emotional crisis, your main focus and commitment is to take care of yourself first and do what’s best for you.

If you work in a culture of openness and acceptance of mental health issues, it can benefit you to speak with management. But first find out your company’s policy on mental health and what your legal rights are. You might be comforted to know that a workplace mental health issues such as debilitating depression has legal protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and it’s illegal for your employer to discriminate against you. Plus, your company is required by law to keep your situation confidential and to provide you “reasonable accommodations” such as a modified work schedule or time off for treatment. But that could be cold comfort when you learn it’s up to your manager to determine what “reasonable accommodations” means. If you do not sense that your issue will be met with understanding and empathy, you might decide that it’s not worth the risk of disclosure.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that management can’t offer support if they don’t know you need it. Bosses are human, too, and some have loved ones with mental health challenges or have had their own. Competent employers know your well-being improves your job performance, makes their jobs easier and makes them look good. Perhaps you have worked long enough under someone you feel close to and trust—someone who has shown sensitivity to the plight of co-workers and treated them fairly when they needed personal time off. Maybe your assessment is that your boss is reasonable and fair-minded. A trusting working relationship might be all you need to decide to openly share your struggle.

One in five people will be affected by mental illness over the course of their lifetime. Increasingly, employers are educating themselves on the importance of mental health for a sustainable workforce. They know your job performance is contingent on mental health care and that overall good mental health among employees is an asset and an investment for both themselves and the company. Perhaps the most important decision for all of us is to make our mental wellness a priority at work and take steps to protect it on a daily basis.


If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or another mental health issue, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Contact Mental Health America to find resources closest to you or call 800-273-8255, a 24 hour crisis center. Contact the Anxiety And Depression Association of America for more information on prevention, treatment and symptoms of anxiety, depression and related conditions (2540-485-1001). You can also call 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need. In an emergency, call 911 or contact a local hospital or mental health facility.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: