Coping with unemployment: Michel's story

Michel shares his tips on ways to look after your mental health and wellbeing while unemployed.

In 1980, I was unemployed for over a year. Two years later, by a series of lucky career breaks, I found myself as Careers Editor at The Times newspaper. In this role I wrote a book with an Occupational Psychologist on surviving unemployment.

At the time, the idea that people would spend months and even years in unemployment was devastatingly novel.

The book says that in addition to spending time looking for a permanent job, there are many activities people out of work can do to keep them mentally healthy and contribute valuable life experience that would benefit them. Many of these activities are still open to people out of work today, even if finding a job is the priority.

Here is a list of some of the possibilities:

Some of these are prohibited in the short term by the Covid-19 restrictions but which will be available again when these restrictions are lifted:

Please follow the latest pandemic guidance on what is allowed in your local area, how to keep yourself and others safe and what rules are in place when following my tips: four nations advice.
  • Look for casual work in your local area , such as working in bars, cafes, local shops and pubs;
  • Look for temporary agency work;
  • If paid work is unavailable, look for voluntary work with local charities, charity shops, or community projects;
  • If conventional voluntary work is unavailable, consider ‘bartering’ your skills in exchange for reciprocal services, household goods, food or other essentials – for example, I do your accounts in return for you doing a plumbing job. Much of this bartering can now be done online;
  • Keep moving, engaging in gardening, jogging, fitness exercises or, if the Covid restrictions allow, sport;
  • Read, do puzzles or crosswords or, if personal circumstances allow, engage in part-time study to keep your mind active and also, again, to support your mental health;
  • Learn a new language or skill through online or part-time study;
  • Consider learning how to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL);
  • Once the Covid-19 crisis lifts – and again if your personal circumstances allow - consider voluntary work abroad, for example or taking up a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) post;

Not all of these suggestions may fit your personal circumstances or currently be possible with the Covid-19 restrictions but the important overall philosophy is to stay active. This will not only bring the benefits of keeping your body and mind healthy, but will have the added benefit of showing future employers that you used your initiative to engage in activities that provided useful skills, knowledge and experience. Many of the activities listed above might also open up new and previously unconsidered directions for you.

Provided you can gain access to the internet, many of these activities and opportunities can be done online. This wasn’t available to people when I first co-wrote the book. 

Best of luck in whatever openings you choose to pursue!


Are you having unemployment worries throughout the pandemic?

Check out our finances, housing and unemployment advice piece on our coronavirus and mental health hub: Read it now