Women, work and mental health

Friday 6 April 2018

45% of young women in a poll last year told Young Women’s Trust that they were worried about their mental health. This compared to 36% of young men. Young women from poorer backgrounds were the most worried (50%).  This was significantly worse than the previous year.

CAROLEYesterday the Prince’s Trust published a report which showed that 61% of young people regularly feel stressed and hopeless and 47% of young people say that they have experienced a mental health problem.  Young women are more worried than young men about their finances, are more likely to think that confidence is holding them back and are more concerned about their body image.

Girlguiding, the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey and the Mental Health Foundation  have also recently published research showing that young people, and particularly young women, have become a high-risk group for mental health issues.  

These are shocking facts and figures. They all point in the same direction. But we’re seeing very little action.   The scale of the problem means we should see it as a public health issue and focus on prevention where possible, not just on NHS funding.  We need to avoid the risk of worries and concerns escalating into mental health problems and more and more young people needing to be treated as “patients”. As a society we have to do more

Let’s show young people that we care about their mental health and take action to reduce stress and anxiety. Let’s show them that we want them to be part of the workforce and bring their skills and talents to bear.  Let’s give them a reason to be optimistic for the future. 

Work is a crucial part of this picture. The Prince’s Trust showed that half of young people say that having a job is or would be good for their mental well-being and 61% said it gives them a sense of purpose. But even if young people are in work they often continue to worry.  Young Women’s Trust found that 39% of young women and 36% of young men said they were worried about job security and more than half about how much their job pays. 

So, what can we do?

We need to challenge the narrative of some politicians that we have near “full employment”.  It is true that unemployment levels overall have reached less than 5% but the unemployment rate amongst young people continues to be over 12% and in some parts of the UK is over 18% - that’s nearly one in five young people unemployed! If our politicians don’t acknowledge the scale of the problem, nothing will be done.

We need to make work pay, so that young people don’t need to go into debt or use services such as foodbanks. Good quality work can give people a sense of worth and meaning. At the moment young people under 25 are not even entitled to the same minimum wage as older colleagues.  This should be changed so that anyone over 18 is entitled to and can expect equal pay for equal work. We should also control the use of zero hour contracts, so that young people know what they will be earning from one week to the next and are not living in fear that they will not be able to pay the bills.

We need to address the issues that young people identify as causing them stress and anxiety.  Based on Young Women’s Trust’s poll the most important would be housing costs, unemployment and job security. 

There is much more that can be done if the will is there.  Not doing anything sacrifices the well-being and mental health of even more of our young people.