According to one study, the rise of mental illness is driving an increasing number of young men into long-term unemployment in the United Kingdom, threatening a “vicious cycle” that keeps young people out of the labour force.

According to the Resolution Foundation, rates of economic inactivity — when a jobless person is not looking for work — increased from 5% to 9% among men aged 18 – 24 between 1995 and 2021. Women’s participation fell from 18% to 10% during the same time period.

The foundation discovered that the doubling of youth unemployment was due to mental health issues. The number of people out of work due to disability or illness more than doubled between 2006 and 2021, rising from 46,000 to 91,000, with mental health issues accounting for the majority of the increase.

The think tank warned that the trend could become entrenched and warned against reverting to previous decades’ problems when unemployment was higher.

“In the 1990s, widespread youth unemployment was a major economic and social problem,” said Louise Murphy, the report’s author. “There’s a chance that recent encouraging progress will be reversed.”

Despite the fact that only about 37,000 men and 23,000 women are out of work due to mental illness, mental health problems are on the rise.

According to government statistics, one in every six young people aged six to sixteen will have a probable mental health problem, up from one in every nine in 2017. During the pandemic, however, the increase coincided with a decrease in referrals as people struggled to access services.

According to Young Minds, this could have long-term consequences because three-quarters of all life-long mental health problems begin before the age of 24.

“This has a big impact on young people in the short and long term,” Young Minds’ external affairs director Olly Parker said.

“The government must prioritise lowering the prevalence of mental health issues among youngsters in its forthcoming mental health plan.”

Despite the fact that programmes aimed at preventing mass youth unemployment during pandemics are being fazed, the Resolution Foundation believes that assistance should now be directed toward those who are ill or have caring responsibilities.

Men’s economic inactivity is being obscured by an overall improvement in job prospects for school leavers, with far fewer young people unemployed than previously.

In 1995, 1.1 million people aged 18 to 24 were either unemployed or attending school full-time. By 2021, this figure had dropped by 300,000 people.

Women bore the brunt of the blame, with far fewer young mothers leaving the labour force to care for children, particularly among black, Pakistani, and  Bangladeshi ethnic groups. Higher education has grown in popularity as well.

Poor mental health could leave an “enduring legacy,” according to Martina Kane, engagement and policy and manager at the Health Foundation, a charitable organization that campaigns for better healthcare and funded the study because young people with mental health issues were more likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time.

“We know that good quality work benefits people’s health and well-being,” she says, adding that “this is likely to feed a vicious cycle.”

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