Quarter of young people concerned poor mental health affects their employability, research finds

Businesses and policymakers must offer targeted health and career support to those most at risk of poor psychological wellbeing, say experts

More than one in four young people said they are afraid poor mental health will affect their ability to find a job in future, according to new research published today.

The poll of 8,000 adults aged 18 and older, commissioned by the Resolution Foundation with support from the Health Foundation, found that 27 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds said they were concerned about finding a job in the future because of mental health struggles.

This was compared to one in five (20 per cent) of people between the ages of 35 and 54, and just one in 10 (10 per cent) of workers aged 55 to 64.

In addition, the research showed that of the workers under 25 who were in work before the crisis but were now either currently unemployed, furloughed or had seen their pay decrease, nearly three in 10 (29 per cent) reported poor mental health.

In comparison, this was only the case for a quarter (25 per cent) of 25 to 34 year olds in the same situation; one in five (21 per cent) 35 to 44 year olds; one in five (22 per cent) 45 to 54 year olds; and more than one in 10 (13 per cent) of workers aged 55 to 64.

The Resolution Foundation said these figures were “deeply worrying” because young people were in a unique position, in that they were seeking careers and taking their first steps into the labour market during a time of dramatically increased uncertainty.

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The research also found that three in 10 (30 per cent) 18 to 24 year olds polled said that the biggest worry for their mental health during job hunting would be if they were unable to find a job at all. This was also the case for more than a quarter (26 per cent) of 25 to 34 year olds.

In comparison, among respondents aged 55 to 64 the largest concern was whether they would lose pay while navigating the labour market, with one in 10 (10 per cent) of this age group citing this as a worry.

Young workers were also the least likely to say that their mental health was good, according to the report, with just under half (48 per cent) reporting good, very good or excellent mental health, compared to nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of 55 to 64 year olds.

The Resolution Foundation suggested this likely reflected the fact that young people were “disproportionately affected” by the economic impact of the pandemic and highlighted that there was “a clear link” between ongoing job uncertainty and mental health struggles.

Rukmen Sehmi, senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, advised employers and policymakers to prioritise “targeted health and career support for those young people most at risk of poor mental health – including young women, students, and young people who were out of work”.

“Given the strong link between low incomes, career uncertainty and mental health, more must also be done to limit the economic impact on young people when the job retention scheme winds down at the end of September and when the temporary uplift to Universal Credit, put in place during the pandemic, is withdrawn”, he added.

Poor mental health was most prevalent among young women (24 per cent), students (23 per cent) low-paid workers (27 per cent) and those not working (28 per cent) or facing financial difficulties (33 per cent).

Martina Kane, policy and engagement manager at the Health Foundation, said there needed to be policies that “proactively support [young people] to thrive, rather than ones that just pick up the pieces after the damage has already been done”.

“For young people, good work supports people to find their place in the world,” she said. “However, where someone is struggling with their mental health, making the essential first step into the job market can prove impossible, especially in a job market as challenging as the one facing young people.”