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Young workers more likely to be off sick than over-40s

Young workers more likely to be off sick than over-40s
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Young workers are more likely to be signed off sick than those aged over 40, a mental health report reveals.

A report looking into the relationship between young people’s mental health and work showed the number of employees aged between 18 and 24 who are off due to ill health more than doubled in a decade.

‘We’ve only just begun’ by the Resolution Foundation and Health Foundation found that in the period of 2021-22, 190,000 young people were signed off sick – a rise from 93,000 10 years before.

There was also an increase in the number of young people experiencing symptoms of common mental disorders (CMDs) like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder during that period.

One in three younger people said they had symptoms related to a CMD, compared to a quarter of those in 2000. More than half a million 18-24-year-olds were prescribed antidepressants during 2021-22.

Mental health problems impacting young workers in hospitality

The hospitality and retail sectors were the most prevalent jobs for employees with CMD symptoms, as a third of its younger staff reported mental health problems.

Further, younger people with health problems are more likely to be out of work than their peers without them. From 2018 to 2022, one in five (21%) of 18-24-year-olds with mental health problems were workless, compared to 13% of those without.

The “shocking” outlook for those off work due to ill health was shown in that four in five (79%) of that age group who are out of unemployment only have qualifications at GCSE level or below.

This compares to just a third of all people aged between 18 and 24 who have the same qualifications.

‘Economic consequences of poor mental health are starkest for younger people’

The state of play with young workers and their mental health alarmed Louise Murphy, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, who believes “urgent action is needed.”

Murphy said: “Alongside work to address the root causes of this epidemic, we need to ensure that young people’s future prospects are not blighted by their mental health problems.

“Attention on this issue has tended to focus on higher education, but what should most worry us is when poor mental health comes together with poor education outcomes.

“The economic consequences of poor mental health are starkest for young people who don’t go to university, with one in three young non-graduates with a CMD currently workless.”

Murphy added: “To address this mental health crisis, we need better support services in currently underserved colleges, and much better provision for those resitting exams so that everyone has qualifications to build on.

“Employers also have a part to play, because the quality of managers in sectors like retail and hospitality is key to more young people with poor mental health staying in the world of work.”

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, agreed that more needed to be done by those in power but did not underestimate the difficulty in improving the mental health of those gaining their first jobs. Bibby said: “The increase in the incidence of mental illness in young people is one of the greatest health challenges we currently face.”

Bibby added: “Policymakers need to focus on the building blocks of health, such as good employment and education, to ensure young people get the support they need and have the tools to move through the world as adults. Without concerted cross-Government action, we risk creating a ‘lost generation’ due to ill health.”

Related: World Mental Health Day: Money worries see a third of the UK’s emotional wellbeing suffer