In a survey of 2,000 people aged 22–26 from across the UK, the majority feel their career prospects and mental health have been severely negatively impacted by the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, some have suggested that the young had it easy. As the age group least likely to be hospitalised when infected, some have even argued that young people had nothing to fear.
However, findings provided by a new survey by the Health Foundation bring to light some of the unique ways the pandemic has affected young people, revealing the startling extent of the pandemic’s impact on their chances of employment and mental health.
The survey was carried out as part of the Foundation’s Young people’s future health inquiry, which aims to improve the long-term health of young people. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (86%) felt that their ability to gain the right skills and qualifications for their career path had been reduced due to the pandemic. The same proportion thought that it had diminished their networking and relationship development.
Considering that 73% of respondents felt that “those with personal networks and connections have an advantage” when looking for employment, we can begin to see how the pandemic has made finding work harder for young people.
Nairn McDonald, a university graduate aged 25, expands upon how the pandemic has made finding work in the charity sector difficult for him:
“Before the pandemic I was applying for jobs in the charity sector. Things were already tough, but they became even harder. The job market is completely saturated. Before, I would at least get to interview stage but since the pandemic I’ve struggled to even get an email acknowledgement.
“When I do get feedback from employers, they tell me that I’m qualified for the role and have a great CV – I tick all the boxes – but I’m competing with people with five to ten years’ experience who have lost their jobs or been furloughed. They are getting 60 to 80 applications for a job where before they usually would have got 20.”
Evidently the pandemic has presented a range of obstacles to young people seeking employment, such as reduced networking opportunities and increased competition from experienced applicants. However, the survey also reveals that the type of opportunities being offered are increasingly less secure roles.
Just over half (54%) of respondents reported that most recent job offerings were temporary or contract positions. In addition, 35% reported expectations of difficulty securing long-term, fairly paid work, with the opportunity of career development across the next six months.
The survey also highlights feelings of reduced levels of support when looking for employment. Just over 3 in 4 respondents reported that financial help from family, such as living with parents to avoid paying rent, had also been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, with this combination of increased employment pressure and reduced financial support caused by the pandemic, young people feel that their individual and collective mental health is at an all-time low. 80% of respondents reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted young people’s mental health. Exacerbating this decline in mental health is likely due to less emotional support - according to 80% of participants – and increased difficulty in accessing mental health support – according to 69% of participants.
“As someone who suffers anxiety, the experience of looking for a job during the pandemic has definitely impacted my mental health – getting constantly knocked back has been very hard," adds Nairn.
With the pandemic both directly (e.g. a fear of catching virus when socialising) and indirectly (e.g. feelings of rejection when refused a job) contributing to the decline in mental health amongst young people, it's no surprise that levels of anxiety and depression have doubled across the globe in this age group during the pandemic.
These findings call attention to some of the unique issues faced by young people seeking work during the pandemic, as well as conveying certain factors causing declining levels of mental health. Martina Kelly, policy and engagement manager at the Health Foundation, says that “these issues have clearly become more acute in the wake of the pandemic and this suggests that far fewer young people are being given the chance to succeed, making it more likely that their long-term health will suffer as a result.”
Find out more about the Health Foundation's Young people's future health inquiry here.
Written by Conor D'Andrade
News reporter for Talking Mental Health