A new report has identified the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent decline in the labour market has had on the mental health of young workers. 

Research by the Resolution Foundation,  an independent think-tank focused on improving the living standards for those on low to middle incomes, has investigated how the mental health of young workers has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its findings, the report found that the pandemic has led to a decline in economic security for this group, leading to worsened mental health as a result. However, it identified the Job Retention Scheme (also known as the furlough scheme) as having a protective impact on young workers’ mental health.

However, the research states that, COVID-19 was responsible for exacerbating pre-existing trends preceding the crisis – with young people more likely to be in an insecure job, and substantially more likely to have a mental health problem than ten years before.

Comparatively, a quarter (24 per cent) of 18-24-year-olds had a common mental disorder (CMD), the lowest rate of any age group, in 2000. However, by 2018-2019, that figure had grown to 30 per cent, with young people the age group most likely to have a mental health problem.

In addition, unemployed young workers were significantly more likely to report having a common mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression before the eve of the crisis. Four-in-ten (40 per cent) 18-24-year-olds who were unemployed had a CMD, compared to three-in-ten (30 per cent) in insecure work and 27 per cent in secure forms of employment.

However, since the start of the pandemic (April 2020), this number has risen to over half – with 51 per cent of young workers having mental health problems, up from the 30 per cent in the pre-crisis period and the highest rate for any age group at the outset of the pandemic.

Furthermore, in January  2021, over a quarter (26 per cent) of 18-24-year-olds who had not had a mental health condition before the crisis had a ‘new’ CMD. For 18-21-year-olds, the figure stood at three-in-ten (30 per cent).

The research did, however, credit the Job Retention Scheme for protecting the mental health of young workers during this period. It found that young people who have been furloughed over the last year were no more likely to report poor mental health as those who had seen no change in their work status over the period (28 per cent of both groups).

It ultimately warned against the link between a drop-off in mental health and unemployment and insecure jobs.

As such, the report called for several measures to be implemented, including:

  • Direct government investment to create jobs in sectors such as social care and green jobs which would provide opportunities for young and older workers alike
  • Implementing targeted wage subsidies for some of the hardest-hit sectors such as leisure and hospitality which would help employers to hold onto more workers, benefiting young people who are more likely than average to work in these industries
  • Extending the Kickstart Scheme beyond the end of 2021 in recognition of renewed restrictions since the scheme was announced.
  • Learning from previous policy implementations when putting the Restart Scheme into place

Rukmen Sehmi, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

Young people are facing a double jobs and mental health crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. These two crises are linked too, with young people who have lost their jobs most at risk of experiencing mental health problems.

Worryingly, experiencing these mental health problems today can harm young people’s employment prospects in the future too.

It is essential therefore that as we emerge out of the pandemic the Government intensifies its efforts to get young people back working, and provides the right support for anyone suffering with mental health problems.


*This research can be found in the Resolution Foundation’s report ‘Double trouble: Exploring the labour market and mental health impact of Covid-19 on young people’.