Ask Zach: “How do I explain employment gaps caused by mental illness or addiction?” | Timestamps

Let's Talk About Mental Illness

A subscriber wrote to me and asked how they should explain gaps in their employment that were caused by mental health struggles. Here is my response.

Subject timestamps for those who want to jump ahead:
02:22 – Some conversation about today’s professional climate
09:54 – Why employment gaps matter to employers
10:37 – Questions that are illegal to ask in a job interview
16:25 – How should you explain employment gaps caused by mental illness?
22:48 – When mental illness or addiction can help you in an interview

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Full Letter


I am a recent RN grad and I want to get into working in detox/mental health. After high school, I experienced depression and substance abuse. During that time, I was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital twice and was also terminated from a good hospital job. After these setbacks, I began attending Narcotics Anonymous and my life made a 180. Mental health is now my PASSION.

I am hoping you could give me a tip for my resume. I have significant and numerous gaps in my work experience. I have already read articles on this topic – all say HR will assume you’re a drug addict if you don’t clear up the discrepancy because of health issues, freelancing, etc.

2 thoughts on “Ask Zach: “How do I explain employment gaps caused by mental illness or addiction?” | Timestamps

  1. Volunteer work is also good to mention.
    In your case a really good gap explanation would be “I took time out to convert a van into a camper van and decided to travel the country to test myself and my resilience…”. “I was a great learning opportunity for me as I got to see how I operated under pressure as well as honing my problem solving skills…”

  2. I always told them I was working at a temporary service. When I have bouts of unemployment I also worked at cleaning houses and also had a website that I did work from home. I had depression episodes, and mental lapses of pulling away from society. I just wanted quiet..from schitophrenia. So, working as a temp when I could it worked for me. You just call in and let them know. People want to hire people for a day or a month or as a temp to hire. So, just say you were registered with a temp service. I also did odd jobs at a cleaning company as a self just say I was self employed. Doing odd jobs. You can describe it as being a free lance agent/self employed. I did have references from cleaning folks houses..if they inquired so it was not a lie…it was a half lie…so there you go..fkning nosy ass people..that is why I stay home now and I am on disability..try and apply for that

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