Young people have been at the centre of two interlinked crises during the pandemic, experiencing the largest employment hit and sharpest increase in mental health conditions of any age group, according to a new report published today (Thursday) by the Resolution Foundation.
The report Double Trouble – supported by the Health Foundation – examines the worrying trends in young people’s mental health in the run-up to and during the crisis, their links to changes in the labour market, and the risks posed to young people’s post-pandemic living standards.
The report notes that young people’s mental health conditions were a major concern even before Covid-19 struck. Those aged 18 to 24 years old have gone from being the least likely age group to have common mental disorders (CMDs) such as anxiety and depression in 2000, to being the most likely to by 2019, as the share of young people experiencing CMDs rose from 24 to 30 per cent.
The Covid-19 pandemic has turbo-charged this crisis. Over one-in-three people aged 45 and under reported having a mental health disorder in January 2021, with the highest incidence (40 per cent) among 18-21 year olds.
The report shows that this sharp deterioration in young people’s mental health is associated with the huge employment hit that they have taken over the pandemic period.
Over one-in-three (36 per cent) 18-35 year olds who lost their jobs during the pandemic rated their mental health as ‘poor’, compared to 28 per cent who had experienced no change in employment or had been furloughed.
Job security also looks to have played a role in affecting workers’ mental health, says the Foundation. Young workers who were on insecure contracts (such as agency, temporary or zero-hours contracts) in January 2021 were significantly more likely to report mental health problems than those on secure contracts (42 per cent, compared to 30 per cent).
This association between insecure work and a higher risk of mental health disorder is particularly worrying, says the Foundation, given that the share of young people on insecure contracts has increased by 66 per cent between 2000 and 2019.
Double Trouble warns that the mental health crisis facing young people isn’t just a problem for today – it risks harming their job prospects in the future too.
It finds that young people who had experienced mental health problems after the financial crisis were 75 per cent more likely to be out of work five years later (14 per cent) than those who hadn’t experienced problems (8 per cent).
Finally, the Foundation says that with the unemployment peak from Covid-19 still to come, and the longer-term trend of rising mental ill-health, there is a risk that the deterioration on young people’s mental health outlasts the pandemic, and scars their future prospects.
In order to tackle this double crisis, the Foundation says the Government should intensify efforts to keep young people in work, for example by expanding and extending the Kickstart Scheme, and ensure that access to mental health support is strengthened in the period after pandemic.
Rukmen Sehmi, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:
“Young people are facing a double jobs and mental health crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. These two crises are linked too, with young people who have lost their jobs most at risk of experiencing mental health problems.
“Worryingly, experiencing these mental health problems today can harm young people’s employment prospects in the future too.
“It is essential therefore that as we emerge out of the pandemic the Government intensifies its efforts to get young people back working, and provides the right support for anyone suffering with mental health problems.”
Martina Kane, Policy and Engagement Manager at the Health Foundation, said:
“High quality work is one of the essential building blocks that supports young people to live a healthy life, contributing to feelings of independence and resilience. Conversely, unemployment is likely to have a negative impact on mental health, contributing to instability, lack of purpose and low self-esteem.
“Young people have been one of the groups hit hardest by the COVID-19 economic fallout, having been more likely to experience a sustained reduction in pay, be put on furlough, or let go from their jobs all together, all of which risks their long-term mental health and future employment prospects.
“It is essential that the government urgently recognises that our young people are one of our greatest assets and puts this group at the heart of its COVID-19 economic recovery plans. The country’s future prosperity depends on the health and wellbeing of this age group. We must ensure this ‘lockdown generation’ are provided with the support they need.”