Struggling financially and forced to put their life on hold. Anxious about a world that is leaving them behind. Worried they won’t be able to retire and despondent about their place in the future. Young people are facing greater pressures than ever before, and it is taking its toll, most notably on their mental health. The word crisis is too often thrown around to describe situations like this, but it seems particularly apt to use it here.
But this is not a crisis that affects all young people equally. At the Young Women’s Trust we speak daily to young women who are struggling with their mental health, but even we were surprised by the extent to which the mental health crisis is consuming young women at a far greater rate than young men. Our latest annual survey of 4,000 young people reveals that 44 per cent of young women and 34 per cent of young men are struggling with poor mental health, with the poorest young women most likely to be affected.
The key to understanding why mental health concerns have skyrocketed can be found in the way young people find themselves faced with dwindling job security, low pay and rising levels of debt. More than a quarter of 18-30-year-olds say their financial situation has got worse in the past year and role of insecure and poor-quality work is clear. More than half of young women and two in five young men say that their jobs are having a negative impact on their mental health. One in five young women and a quarter of the poorest women have struggled to maintain a job as a result.
This can all too often lock them into a cycle of poor quality work, mental health struggles, and unemployment. It is clear that the culture of work needs to change. So, too, does the government’s insistence that any employment is positive. We need to shift the focus onto ensuring that all young people can access high-quality employment that is well-paid and provides a decent level of stability.
We also need to ensure that the right support is available to young people who are experiencing difficulties. Our survey showed that young people were twice as likely to visit their GP for support with physical health problems as they were for concerns about their mental health. This suggests that, despite the growing willingness to talk about mental health, the services most accessible for young people are still not able to meet their needs.
Fundamentally however, the rapid growth in poor mental health among young people has its roots in inequality. Young women remain the most likely to be in low-paid work. They are more likely to be struggling to make ends meet and are more likely to be in debt. Almost half of the poorest young women are struggling to make their cash last until the end of the month – more than any other group of young people. It is only by addressing these financial disparities that we can avert the crisis and give young people hope again for the future.
Mark Gale is campaigns manager of the Young Women’s Trust.