Efforts to Tackle Britain’s Epidemic of Poor Mental Health Should Focus on Lower-qualified Young People

A new report from the Resolution Foundation exploring the relationship between the mental health and work outcomes of young people.

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Young people are now more likely to experience a common mental disorder (CMD) than any other age group – a complete reversal compared to two decades ago when they were least likely to. And the economic consequences are greatest for those whose poor mental comes together with poor educational outcomes, with one-in-three young non-graduates with a CMD currently workless, according to new Resolution Foundation research published recently.

We’ve only just begun – the final report of a three-year research programme funded by the Health Foundation – explores the relationship between young people’s mental health and work outcomes, and how policy makers should respond.

The report notes that in 2021-2022 over one-in-three (34%) young people aged 18-24 reported symptoms of conditions like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder – up from one-in-four (24% in 2000. As a result, more than half a million 18-24-year-olds were prescribed anti-depressants in 2021-22.

The rise in mental health problems among young people is not just a health crisis; it is limiting their economic options too. The report finds that between 2018 and 2022, one-in-five (21 per cent) 18-24-year-olds with mental health problems were workless, compared to 13 per cent of those without mental health problems. The number of young people workless due to ill-health has more than doubled over the past decade, from 93,000 to 190,000. People in their early 20s are now more likely to be economically inactive due to ill health than those in their 40s.

The Foundation notes that the focus on young people’s mental health problems often centres around universities, where the share of full-time students with a CMD has increased by 37 per cent over the past decade. But the economic consequences of poor mental health are far starker for those who don’t go to university.

The report finds that one-in-three young non-graduates with a CMD were workless, compared to 17 per cent of graduates with poor mental health.

Overall, the report finds that a shocking four-in-five (79 per cent) 18-24-year-olds who are workless due to ill health only have qualifications at GCSE-level or below, compared to one-third (34 per cent) of all people in that age group.