The mental health impact of the pandemic could have lasting repercussions for young people as they take their first steps on the career ladder, with over one-in-four 18-24-year olds afraid that poor mental health will affect their ability to find a job in future, according to new research published by the Resolution Foundation.

The report Out of the woods? – supported by the Health Foundation – uses new YouGov survey data to highlight young workers’ concerns about what might lie ahead, and about how mental health struggles that have grown during the Covid-19 crisis could affect their future job prospects.

The report notes that while the UK’s public health crisis has eased and the economy is recovering, over one-in-five 18-24-year olds were still reporting poor mental health last month.

Young workers were also the least likely to say that their mental health is good, with only 48 per cent reporting good, very good or excellent mental health when surveyed (compared to 64 per cent of 55-to-64-year olds).

This likely reflects the fact that young people have been disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, says the Foundation. At the end of May, 18-24-year olds were two-and-a-half times more likely to be out of work, whether through furloughing or unemployment, than all other age groups (16 per cent vs six per cent).

Poor mental health is 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).

And while young people have been at the heart of the reopening of the economy – with furlough rates halving in May – many are still concerned about how their mental health struggles could affect their future job prospects.

Over one in four (27 per cent) 18-24-year olds said that they were concerned about finding a job going forwards, due to mental health struggles, compared to one-in-five people between the ages of 35 and 54, and just one-in-ten workers aged 55 to 64.

In addition, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of those aged 18-24 said that they were worried their mental health will affect their ability to progress in their job.

Out of the woods? says that there is a clear link between ongoing job uncertainty and mental health struggles. It finds that close to three-in-ten (29 per cent) young people who were in work before the crisis but are now either currently unemployed, furloughed, or have seen their pay decrease, are reporting poor mental health (compared to between 13 per cent of workers aged 55-64).

These figures are deeply worrying not just in the here and now, says the Foundation, but because of the unique position that young people are in: forging careers, and taking their first steps into the labour market, at a time of dramatically increased uncertainty.

Going forwards, policymakers and employers must take steps to protect vulnerable young people, in current and future workplaces, in education, and as they begin the process of searching for jobs.

The Foundation adds that more must be done to limit negative impacts of the Job Retention Scheme winding down at the end of September. It also says that the Government should reverse its decision to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week in October, as that will only add to millions of people’s financial worries.

Finally, targeted, easy-to-access mental health and career support for the most at-risk groups should also be a priority in a proper Covid-19 recovery plan.

Rukmen Sehmi, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Young people have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 economic crisis, which has taken its toll on their mental health. Worryingly, some young people are struggling even while the economy is recovering, and they are fearful about their career prospects. These fears must not be underestimated.

“Targeted health and career support for those young people most at risk of poor mental health –including young women, students, and young people who are out of work – should be a priority for both employers and policymakers.

“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.”

Martina Kane, Policy and engagement manager at the Health Foundation, said: “The relationship between work and mental health is entwined.  Particularly for young people, good work supports people to find their place in the world.  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.  We know that to protect the health and mental health of the next generation, there need to be policies which pro-actively support them to thrive, rather than ones that just pick up the pieces after the damage has already been done.”

* Read Out of the woods? here.

* Source: Resolution Foundation