Unemployment Takes its Toll on Young People’s Mental Health

Young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) are committed to working but vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems, according to a new study by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, Duke University and the University of California.

The current generation of young people faces the worst job prospects in decades, yet previous research into how ‘NEET’youths feel about their own prospects and how unemployment affects their mental health is scarce.

Using the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, researchers assessed commitment to work, mental health problems and substance use disorders in more than 2,000 British young people transitioning from compulsory schooling to early adulthood at the age of 18. 12 per cent of the participants were not in education, employment or training.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that NEET participants showed greater vulnerability for mental health issues, including higher rates of mental health and substance abuse problems. However, when interviewed about attitudes toward work and actual job-seeking strategies they had used, the NEET youth reported higher levels of commitment to work and more job searching behaviours, as compared to non NEET youth in the sample.

Nearly 60 per cent of NEET youths had already experienced more than one mental health problem in childhood or adolescence, compared to around 35 per cent of young people who were in education, employment or training. 35 per cent of NEET participants suffered from depression compared to 18 per cent of non-NEET youths and 14 per cent had generalised anxiety disorder, compared to 6 per cent of their non-NEET peers.

The researchers also found that NEET participants were less equipped to succeed in the job market, reporting fewer ‘soft’skills such as problem-solving, leadership and time management.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, co-author of the study from the IoPPN at King’s College London, said: ‘Our findings indicate that while the struggle to find work appears to take its toll on the mental health of young people, this does not appear to be an issue of motivation. The majority of 18-year-olds we spoke to were endeavouring to find jobs and committed to the idea of work, although they are perhaps hampered by a lack of skills that would serve them well in the job market.

‘Compared to their peers, NEET young people are also contending with substantial mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and aggression control.’

Image shows a man looking through a window. Rain is falling outside.
In a follow-up analysis the researchers accounted for pre-existing vulnerability to mental health problems and found that the impact on mental health remained large and statistically significant in nearly all cases. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

In a follow-up analysis the researchers accounted for pre-existing vulnerability to mental health problems and found that the impact on mental health remained large and statistically significant in nearly all cases.

Professor Moffitt added: ‘We think that NEET status and mental health problems may occur in tandem in young people for a number of reasons. First, the stress of wanting to work but being unable to can be harmful to mental health; second, employers tend to prefer applicants who seem healthier and third, because early manifestations of serious mental illness can in itself include disengagement from education and employment.’

Professor Louise Arseneault, co-author from the IoPPN, said: ‘Young people who are neither working nor studying are often assumed to be unmotivated or unwilling to work, yet our study suggests that they are just as motivated as their peers – but many face psychological challenges that put them at a disadvantage when seeking employment.

‘It is crucial that young people are better supported by mental health services as they make this challenging transition from school to employment, and that they be trained in professional ‘soft’skills which could help them in the search for employment.’

[divider]About this psychology research[/divider]

Source: Jack Stonebridge – King’s College London
Image Source: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “Committed to work but vulnerable: self-perceptions and mental health in NEET 18-year olds from a contemporary British cohort” by Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Avshalom Caspi, Louise Arseneault, Nifemi Ajala, Antony Ambler, Andrea Danese, Helen Fisher, Abigail Hucker, Candice Odgers, Teresa Williams, Chloe Wong and Terrie E. Moffitt in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online August 26 2015 doi:10.1111/jcpp.12459


Abstract

Committed to work but vulnerable: self-perceptions and mental health in NEET 18-year olds from a contemporary British cohort

Background
Labour market disengagement among youths has lasting negative economic and social consequences, yet is poorly understood. We compared four types of work-related self-perceptions, as well as vulnerability to mental health and substance abuse problems, among youths not in education, employment or training (NEET) and among their peers.

Methods
Participants were from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) longitudinal study, a nationally representative UK cohort of 2,232 twins born in 1994–1995. We measured commitment to work, job-search effort, professional/technical skills, ‘soft’ skills (e.g. teamwork, decision-making, communication), optimism about getting ahead, and mental health and substance use disorders at age 18. We also examined childhood mental health.

Results
At age 18, 11.6% of participants were NEET. NEET participants reported themselves as committed to work and searching for jobs with greater diligence than their non-NEET peers. However, they reported fewer ‘soft’ skills (B = −0.98, p < .001) and felt less optimistic about their likelihood of getting ahead in life (B = −2.41, p < .001). NEET youths also had higher rates of concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems, but these did not explain the relationship with work-related self-perceptions. Nearly 60% of NEET (vs. 35% of non-NEET) youths had already experienced ≥1 mental health problem in childhood/adolescence. Associations of NEET status with concurrent mental health problems were independent of pre-existing mental health vulnerability.

Conclusions
Our findings indicate that while NEET is clearly an economic and mental health issue, it does not appear to be a motivation issue. Alongside skills, work-related self-perceptions and mental health problems may be targets for intervention and service provision among this high-risk population.

“Committed to work but vulnerable: self-perceptions and mental health in NEET 18-year olds from a contemporary British cohort” by Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Avshalom Caspi, Louise Arseneault, Nifemi Ajala, Antony Ambler, Andrea Danese, Helen Fisher, Abigail Hucker, Candice Odgers, Teresa Williams, Chloe Wong and Terrie E. Moffitt in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online August 26 2015 doi:10.1111/jcpp.12459

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