Navigating a Resume / Employment Gap Caused by a Mental Health Absence

Interviewer holding resume during interview at desk

Mental health affects how an individual handles stress, makes choices, manages relationships, and maintains their physical well-being. Up to 10.7% of the world’s population has at least one mental health disorder, making it highly likely that multiple staff members of nearly every company or institution struggle with mental health conditions.

When someone is dealing with new or ongoing mental health complications, it can easily take a toll on their work performance. In any career, it’s imperative to focus, control emotions, and produce quality results. However, a mental health break is often the best choice for everyone involved when this becomes difficult. This can cause a small or significant gap in your resume, which will likely need to be addressed with a future employer. Luckily, writing a stellar resume and acing an interview while presenting your absence with integrity is possible.

Work Challenges Caused by Mental Health Conditions

Anyone experiencing a mental health condition is not alone. In fact, 59% of employees across all organizational levels in 2019 were impacted by negative mental health, which increased to 76% in just two years. Unaddressed mental health conditions can lead to lower productivity, work satisfaction, employee retention, and dropping workplace performance rates.

It can also lead to a variety of struggles for individual employees. The most common conditions, such as anxiety and depression, make essential work functions far more difficult. Challenges such as difficulties with concentration, constant fatigue, frequent work absences, conflicts with coworkers, and burnout are common.

“While virtually no one would blame a friend or family member for taking time off a very stressful job for their mental health, there’s absolutely a stigma in the professional world for doing so. When I work with our patients to challenge these mindsets and prejudices, I remind them that their experience, no matter how traumatic, has offered them perspective and tenacity that few will ever have – and that’s an asset to any employer,” says Jaime Blaustein, co-founder and CEO of Sylvia Brafman, and the driving force behind our career launch program.

Great Ways to Impress an Employer After an Absence

Up to 82% of employees diagnosed with a mental health condition do not tell their employers.

Most workers fear social repercussions such as judgment, shame, or losing promotions or their jobs.

By addressing the gap in a resume positively and professionally, there is an opportunity to shed the stigma and grab the desired position. The most important thing to consider when crafting a resume after an absence is showing some beneficial ways the time was used. Was it used for self-improvement and skill development? If so, that can signal to an employer that the experience was helpful for building character and can potentially benefit the company as well.

Here are some of the essential features of a high-quality resume and candidate after a mental health absence:

Communicate Transparently

Legally, interviewees can share as little or as much about their gap as they would like. Although, it’s best to remember to remain professional. There is no need to go into extensive detail about personal information. No matter how much is shared, it’s necessary to be open and honest. It’s empowering to own the situation. By skirting the truth, the narrative surrounding an absence can be misinterpreted.

Simply clarifying why the decision to take a break was made and how it ended up being a constructive experience is enough.

Focus on the Right Things

While communicating transparently, ensure that the gap is framed in the most positive manner. Use verbiage that shows optimistic steps. Whether taking classes, boosting work qualifications, learning a new skill, becoming part of an organization, or specialized mental health treatments, emphasize how the break was well-spent. By highlighting the constructive aspects of the gap and showing how it relates to the role at hand, it’s possible to turn it into an attractive feature for future employers.

Some employers worry that individuals with resume gaps may be behind on the latest industry trends. Therefore, it’s also a great idea to show off any knowledge about the newest developments in the field, whether from attending a conference, reading new research, or speaking with a mentor.

Offer References

Another tip is to introduce the interviewer to your personal growth by means of quality references. Choose recent testimonials that speak about your growth since the last job post. Adding mental health professionals or supervisors from activities during the gap may be possible as further evidence of mental and emotional stability and improvement.

Show Your Improvement

Don’t stop after discussing what happened, show how the absence has visibly led to greater self-awareness. For example, in the cover letter, it may be a good idea to include any new techniques learned for managing strong emotions and a plan for when difficult moments arise. Add recent challenges that have been overcome by using these methods. Fully illustrate any progress by giving concrete examples of the new strategies’ effectiveness.

Employers are more likely to hire resilient candidates who have shown they have overcome adversity. The goal is to demonstrate that the gap didn’t hold anything back but rather improved the individual’s candidacy.

Overcoming Stigma in the Workplace

According to the State of Workforce Mental Health Report, over one-third of employees said work-related stress and burnout were some of the most significant reasons their mental health suffered. Unfortunately, many of these employees will be too ashamed to ask for help, or their workplace culture may not foster open communication to make that happen. The stigma surrounding mental health can dissipate by showing up to an interview and submitting a resume that presents the positive aspects of owning and overcoming a difficult situation.

It is illegal in the United States to discriminate based on mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and more. Some companies also provide additional mental health resources to help workers keep and excel at their position.

Workplaces that encourage empathy and offer mental health resources like counseling, flexible work hours, and retreats are more likely to have a happier and more productive workforce. Take advantage of these resources if they are available and consider asking for them if necessary. Even one individual committed to better mental well-being can encourage a more supportive work culture in the future.

During and after your treatment at the Sylvia Brafman mental health center, you will meet with our cofounder and CEO Jaime Blaustein to talk about career prospects and important next steps in finding and keeping a fulfilling and motivating job. We encourage you to learn more about our career launch program.

Resources:

  1. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/9-tips-managing-gaps-resume-due-mental-illness/
  2. https://www.thewmhi.com/mental-health-statistics/
  3. https://hbr.org/2021/10/its-a-new-era-for-mental-health-at-work
  4. https://www.lyrahealth.com/2023-state-of-workforce-mental-health-report/
  5. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/depression-ptsd-other-mental-health-conditions-workplace-your-legal-rights
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