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  • Greg Davis

People in 20s more likely to be out of work because of poor mental health than those in early 40s

Resolution Foundation report calls for action as number of young people experiencing poor mental health increases

Young people are more likely to be out of work because of ill health than people in their early 40s, a report calling for action on Britain’s mental wellbeing crisis has found.

People in their early 20s with mental health problems may have not had access to a steady education and can end up out of work or in low-paid jobs, the Resolution Foundation research revealed.

According to official data, 34% of people aged 18 to 24 reported symptoms of mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder in 2021-22. People who live alone are more likely to feel depressed, study finds - Read more

It is a significant increase on the 2000 figure of 24%, with young women one-and-a-half times more likely to be negatively affected.

“Attention on this issue has tended to focus on higher education, but what should most worry us is when poor mental health comes together with poor education outcomes,” said Louise Murphy, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation.

“The economic consequences of poor mental health are starkest for young people who don’t go to university, with one in three young non-graduates with a common mental disorder currently workless.”

She added: “To address this mental health crisis, we need better support services in currently underserved colleges, and much better provision for those resitting exams so that everyone has qualifications to build on.”

The report, which called for government action, also found that 79% of 18 to 24-year-olds who are workless due to ill health only have qualifications at GCSE level or below. This compares with 34% of all people in that age group.

Meanwhile, 12% of 11 to 16-year-olds with poor mental health missed more than 15 days of school in the autumn term of 2023, compared with one in 50 healthier classmates, the report said.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: “Policymakers need to focus on the building blocks of health, such as good employment and education, to ensure young people get the support they need and have the tools to move through the world as adults.

“Without concerted cross-government action, we risk creating a ‘lost generation’ due to ill health.”

If children have poor mental health between the ages of 11 and 14, they are three times more likely not to pass five GCSEs including maths and English compared with healthier children, the report found.

In 2022, 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds with mental health problems who were in work were in a low-paid job, compared with 35% of healthier peers. A third of young people with mental health problems and no degree are out of work, compared with 17% of graduates with the same illnesses.

The study concluded that efforts to tackle Britain’s epidemic of poor mental health should focus on lower-qualified young people.

It also called for greater mental health support to be available in colleges and sixth forms and for more to be done to ensure fewer people leave compulsory education with low qualification levels.


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