How Working for Minimum Wage Affected My Mental Health

As a university-educated woman in her 30s, with a post-graduate degree and over 10 years of professional working experience, having to accept a minimum wage job felt like a slap in the face.

I’ve spent most of my life getting a quality education, working hard, and gaining tons of experience in order to avoid being stuck in a low paying, no-room-to-advance type job.

I don’t want to be paid the same minimum wage as a 16-year-old with no experience, and I shouldn’t have to be.

No, I’m not “entitled” to something better. I’ve worked damn hard for it!

But yet, I found myself once again at the bottom of the ladder. In a place I haven’t been since I was that 16 year old with no experience.

I realize that my struggles to find meaningful employment has a lot to do with where I live. The economic state here isn’t the greatest and I’m a white-collar employee trying to find work in a blue-collar town. Regardless, it’s hard not to take it personally.

It is extremely frustrating (and sometimes even demeaning) to work for a manager who doesn’t understand the job and who has less management experience than I do. Particularly when you work along-side students who have never had a real job before. It’s even worse when the work is physically and mentally harder than most of my previous jobs, but barely pays $250 a week.

I loved working with kids again, and some of my coworkers were amazing. But overall, working in the daycare of the gym as a semi-glorified babysitter was not where I wanted to be.

I was miserable. I was making people around me miserable.

The state of my health was miserable.

As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, I caught a cold within the first few weeks of work, which never really went away. (Except for when it was replaced by the flu or allergic reactions.) Calling in sick was often a problem. So I didn’t get the time off that I needed to recover, which I’m sure only exasperated the illnesses.

I was constantly taking cold medicine (which is so bad for you to take long-term). I either wasn’t sleeping at all or was sleeping way too much (which also can be bad for you). And my migraines returned, amongst all the other illnesses and symptoms.

The stress was becoming overwhelming.

I started to feel myself slipping back into a depression, and I knew that something had to change. I couldn’t risk facing yet another break-down from a toxic work environment. Especially when I was fortunate enough to have the option of quitting. (I know most people in similar positions don’t have that choice.)

Which is why I finally quit my job working at the daycare.

Well, I should say it’s a part of why I quit. Because trust me, I did not make that decision lightly.

I spent months going back and forth on what I should do. In that time there were many conversations with R (as obviously, this affects him as well), too many failed attempts to find something better, and a whole lot of number crunching being done.

I’d either convince myself that I survived a lot worse at my previous job and that I could survive this. Or that it was ridiculous of me to give so much of myself to this job for so little. But every time I would come to a decision to either stick it out a little longer or quit immediately, something in my gut made me doubt my decision, and I’d be right back to square one.

Then one day, everything changed.

It was the day that we realized my cat, was dying.

Maybe it’s dumb, but to me, it felt like this was the (heartbreaking) sign I’d been waiting for. It was like everything came crashing down. The universe was telling me that it was okay to quit.

It was a cruel reminder that life is too short.

It’s already been over a month since I quit. Although I’m not exactly proud of it, I have not once regretted my decision. But I also don’t regret taking the job in the first place. It didn’t really add anything to my resume, but I absolutely learned from this experience.

It’ll be more of a challenge financially speaking until I get another job, but we can survive without it. We already survived last summer on less. And so far, because we don’t have to spend $40 – $200 a week on cabs as a one-car household, we’re pretty close to breaking-even, anyways.

I’m still applying for as many jobs as I can and doing what I can to make extra cash, but it feels a lot more burdensome. My health and mental health are a lot better, but I still feel like I’m in “recovery mode” more than I’d like to admit to. All I can do is take it one day at a time, and remember that slow progress is better than no progress.

There’s a common phrase that states “no job is beneath you”, but at what point is that not true?

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

22 thoughts on “How Working for Minimum Wage Affected My Mental Health”

  1. I’m glad you got out of your bad situation, and I hope the next job that comes along will be a way better fit. Where I live has a lot to do with my problem as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have the option of quitting because there’s no way we could get by on what Chris makes. I only wish I could publicly talk about the problems with my job, and how it affects me but it’s big stuff … and not stuff that should be posted on the internet.

    • Thanks Debbie. I definitely glossed over a lot of the real health concerns I had, so I understand. I know I’ve asked you this before, but why aren’t you guys moving somewhere else?

  2. I think you made the right decision. It was obvious this job was not right for you at all. Ultimately, no amount of money is worth your health. Quitting a job is not easy, even more so when you have debt to pay and nothing to fall back on.

    Good luck with your search!

  3. I agree that no job is beneath you if you need the money, but if it takes more away from your life than it adds it probably isn’t worth it. The costs seemed to far outweigh the benefits. Have you guys thought about relocating? Not that moving is cheap or without risk or anything! And I’m sure you are smart enough to consider all options. (I think you may have done a post on it when you had all the bad things going on in your neighborhood).

    • We’ve talked about relocating at some point, but for now we’re here. So I’m trying to find a remote job, or something I can do from home instead.

  4. That sucks about the job, though I think you made the right decision to quit. I’m sure you’ve considered it, but maybe you could do more online work or freelancing or other remote work? I think it might be a good way to tide you over until the next job comes along. And you could probably get more than minimum wage.

    • Yup – that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I keep looking at the regular job listings, but have added remote and online stuff as well. Hopefully something works out soon!

  5. You definitely made the right decision. When your job starts to affect you, where you’re always miserable around them than its not worth it. And I totally get the how having a job like that could make you feel. My fiancé is college educated but can not get a job that he is qualified to do. He hates the job he has (its on call and its less than 20 hours a week), and like you he keeps trying and applying for other jobs. I really hope you find something soon!

  6. I am glad you quit! I know that when I moved to Portland and made $10 per hour and was on food stamps, after getting by M.A., I felt so horrible. I was depressed and in therapy. Portland is also horrible for career type jobs, so freelancing was a much better route for me. I think you can do it! I also am not above any job, but you also have to take care of your mental health too.

  7. I worked at Starbucks after getting my Masters degree because there was a recession in Denver at the time I graduated. I also had family issues that affected my money so I was under a lot of pressure. Part of my current financial problems go back to that time. I feel your pain girl! I at least enjoyed working at Starbucks (lol!). However, anytime you work a job that compromises your health and sanity you have to question its place in your life. I was making decent money at the university but I was going INSANE. And I had to leave. Things aren’t perfect but I feel so much better.

  8. It can be so hard to find a decent jobs in a remote area. I have to commute for years to find something decent. I am lucky that they now let me work from home most days. Maybe you should try your hand at freelancing?

  9. I think the “there’s no job beneath you” thing applies when you have to work – if you have children to feed or people to support, you get any job that gets it done – but if you can tighten your budget and get by on one salary, then there are times the suffering might not be worth it.

    I remember having trouble the first few weeks looking for a job out of grad school and I finally wound up walking into a Rainforest Cafe to apply to be a waitress, a job I had done several summers while I was an undergrad in a different state and they told me I was under qualified to be a server in a major city. That was definitely one of those days in life where I slunk home, cried and was convinced my under qualified but super overeducated self was going to starve to death – or have to move back in with my parents and admit defeat.

    It all worked out in the end though… and I really hope it does for you too!

  10. No job is beneath you if you don’t mind doing it. I think it’s great that you recognised that you weren’t happy and did something about it – so many people stay in a job they hate, minimum wage or not – and when it comes to health – that should be the ultimate priority! You spend so much time at work, it’s only right that you should be happy with what you’re doing. Life IS too short. If you think there is a better job out there for you, that you will enjoy more, then there probably will be!

  11. Oh, man, working in a daycare was the most unappreciated position I’ve ever had . The pay is wretched for such an important job… Helping raise someone’s kids! I left for much the same reasons. Pay compared to stress was not worth it. Hoping for something on the other side for you, but either way I think you made the right decision!

  12. Oh gosh, it certainly sounded like you needed to get out of there. While I agree to a certain extent that ‘no job is beneath you,’ if it’s affecting your physical and mental health then I really don’t see any reason to continue to endure it. Anytime I’ve worked a thankless minimum wage job, it has been while studying or while working my ideal ‘white collar’ job – so I appreciated the extra income while knowing it wasn’t my plan A.

    Just remember, things always work out as they should.

  13. I think that “no job beneath you” refers to when you absolutely can’t live without the money. If you can figure out another way to survive, then yes, some jobs are beneath you. Specifically, the ones that ruin your health — physical and mental.

  14. My husband has been awaiting disability for about 3 years. Much of that time, at a toll to my health, I worked 2-3 jobs while pursuing an online Masters of Human Service. At the time I graduated, I was working over 80 hours weekly, sleeping maybe 4 hours if I was lucky 3 nights a week. I resigned to take a management job (keeping 1 of my full time jobs). I was asked to commit Medicaid fraud with documentation (not overtly but it was clear) and I declined and quit day 2. I love the job I have. Our finances are abysmal. However, I can’t go back to overnight work nor do I feel that I can handle another job at this point. I too am seeing a therapist, taking anti-depressants, sleeping pills and benzos. Now the latter are not working. We moved in with my mother-in-law 3 years ago so they could take care of each other while I worked. Not ideal, this is part of the stress, though understand I am so thankful for it. The apartments we looked at were no place I wanted to be either. I hope and pray that my husband’s disability comes through soon. I have student loans, a car payment and living expenses to pay, he has met his out of pocket deductible (he had stents put in both legs that improved his circulation some but not as much as the doctors hoped) so his medical expenses are at no charge until May next year. He suffers Bipolar disorder and the depression end of it is getting the better of him. There is not a lot of opportunity for growth in my field (Human Service-specific to developmental disability) in this area however there is not a lot of business located in this county so I have decided to try to build it for the company I work for. (I telecommute and serve 3 counties). Moving is not an option because my mother-in-law is nearly 80 and showing signs of Alzheimers and dementia daily. Sometimes I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place but I am also thankful that we are not homeless.


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