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Ecotherapy in Clinical Practice

Summer Solstice 2024

Navigating the Mental Health Crisis in Young Adults

Summer Solstice 2024 Friday, June 21, 2024. Learn More

August 20, 2019

Meaningful Work for Young Adults with Major Depressive Disorder

When young adults with major depression decide to enter the workforce, they might go through a number of emotions. For those with serious mental illness unemployment rates are high even though many want to work. In 2016, individuals between 25 and 54 with depressive disorders had a 32.4% unemployment rate while the national average was around 5%.

Finding and keeping a job – with any mental illness – can be complex. Coaching young adults through the process is crucial, but well worth the task, as once they find meaning in their work, the motivation that cones from that meaning has the potential to powerfully impact their well-being.

Identify meaningful work opportunities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the right to access mental health support without fear of losing a job. There are restrictions to the ADA, though. Some smaller employers are not bound by the same rules, but conscientious employers make reasonable accommodations for team members.

As a counselor, encourage people to seek out employers who have flex time policies, telecommuting options, short-term/long-term disability plans, and mental health benefits in their healthcare plans. There are many types of employment that young adults with depression can consider as they search for meaning in their work.

Supported Employment

Employment centers help people find and keep a job that works best for their schedule. A vocational counselor assesses their interests as well as prepares them for full-time or part-time work. Local vocational rehabilitation centers guide young adults through this process. Supported employment models are successful (about 60% employment rate versus 24% for those not in supported employment programs), but they are not well funded, and are sometimes inaccessible.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering can be fulfilling for young adults, especially to re-acclimate themselves to regular working hours. These positions can promote skill-building and are highly rewarding without the same pressures of a traditional desk job; but the fact that these positions do not pay may make it difficult for young adults who live independently. Volunteer Match can help young adults find an organization that fits their schedule and abilities.


The major benefit to internships is forming a mentor-mentee relationship in a workforce setting. Although internships can be lower paying or even unpaid, securing an internship can aid people in their professional development pursuits and even figure out whether a specific industry is the right fit. Internships typically offer flexibility, as many interns are college students with a full class schedule. For college students, internships might even be eligible for class credit.

Part-Time Employment

Part-time work can also help people ease back into employment after breaks. Although part-time positions do not always include benefits, they can offer flexible hours, which might be a greater priority. Meaningful part-time jobs still carry the same motivational and well-being benefits as full time employment, allowing people to engage with others with similar interests and form lasting bonds.


When traditional employment options seem daunting, patients can start their own business, especially if they already have concepts in mind. The Abilities Fund provides funding to individuals with major depression as well as other mental and physical illnesses so they can thrive in entrepreneurial settings. Entrepreneurship, while a worthwhile pursuit for some, requires discipline. Encourage people to find support groups or organizations to assist them through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, should that be the employment path they decide.

Residential Treatment Facilities

Effective residential treatment facilities provide work options to their residents. Each facility offers unique responsibilities. In a farm setting, residents might facilitate animal care, prepare meals from the garden, and/or tend to the land. At Hopewell, we even have a maple sugaring team in addition to teams who work in the garden, in the wood shop, and other places around the farm. Meaningful work in that capacity builds self-esteem and aids in filling employment gaps on a resume.

Find a personal connection

When employees are happy, companies thrive. Help people find meaning in what they do, no matter what kind of employment works best for them. In fact, finding meaning in jobs can increase motivation, performance, and personal fulfillment, among other advantages. When young adults seek out meaning in their work, this meaning does not have to relate to the job itself; external factors such as the desire to support one’s family can have just as significant of an impact as enjoying the job itself.

When young adults have identified their passion – a career they feel called to pursue – they are more likely to continue on that path. When an individual truly enjoys their overall vocation, even mundane or grueling tasks contribute to their passion for the position.

Plan for the future

Meaningful work for young adults can also mean attending college. While college can be supplemented by work experiences, the college experience itself can have great impact (both negatively and positively) on a students’ mental health. Whether people are considering college prior to the workforce, using it to build their skills while in the workforce, or if they are already in college, show them ways to find meaning in their packed collegiate schedules.

  • Identify collaborative opportunities. Support groups are a crucial part of college students’ experiences, especially those with major depression. Participating in groups or volunteering in a leadership role can propel students forward to maintain a positive outlook.
  • Be careful with social media. Although there are positive aspects of social media such as building professional networks, cyberbullying and negative self-image are a couple of the negative effects college students have to combat. Remind young adults to unplug every so often, especially while at work.
  • Help them develop healthy coping mechanisms. Exercising, volunteering, and getting enough sleep are all foundational tips for college students daily. But to be successful at work, it’s especially important that they identify effective techniques for calming themselves during depressive episodes. Taking deep breaths or stepping away from work for a few minutes can make all the difference.

Unemployment rates for young adults with major depression are high, but a support system that pushes for meaningful work opportunities contributes to a healthier mindset, allowing patients to develop long-term coping mechanisms to combat depression.

Residential treatment facilities that are therapeutic communities, such as Hopewell, take a “community as healer” approach, inspiring residents to improve the community as a whole and to discover their strengths in new ways. Meaningful work leads to higher self-esteem and a sense of belonging while also showing young adults with major depressive disorder and other serious mental illnesses that they can accomplish anything.

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