This study aimed to investigate the relationship between the unemployment experience and depressive symptoms among mid-aged (ages 45–59) and elderly (ages 60 or above) persons and to examine further the effects of unemployment insurance, industrial accident compensation insurance (IACI) and national pension on the stated relationship. Data were used from the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging (KLoSA) between 2006 and 2012. A total of 1,536 individuals employed at the 2006 baseline were followed. The association between employment status change during 2006 to 2008, 2008 to 2010 or 2010 to 2012 and depressive symptoms in years 2008, 2010 or 2012 were analysed using a generalised estimating equation model. Depressive symptoms were measured with the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D 10) scale. The results showed that the ‘employed to unemployed’ group had statistically significant increases in depression scores in the mid-aged (β = 0.4884, p = 0.0038) and elderly (β = 0.8275, p ⩽ 0.0001) categories, compared to the ‘employed to employed’ group. Findings were maintained in groups without a social safety net. Contrastingly, the ‘employed to unemployed’ groups with unemployment insurance and IACI did not show statistically significant increases in depression scores. The ‘employed to unemployed’ category of individuals enrolled in the national pension system exhibited a lower increase of depression. Therefore, an enhanced focus on the mental health of unemployed individuals is required, in addition to the provision of a reliable social safety net.