Young people have suffered more with mental health issues over the last few months than any other age group, according to a far-reaching study that has scrutinised the effects of the pandemic on the under-25s.
A troubling picture of growing levels of anxiety and an inability to concentrate was reported by those aged between 18 and 24 as part of an extensive survey of more than 6,000 adults carried out by YouGov and designed by the Resolution Foundation, which was subsequently analysed by the independent charity the Health Foundation.
Those aged under 25 are three times more likely to report that they are not enjoying their day-to-day activities as much as they were two years ago, while almost half said they were struggling to concentrate, compared with just over a fifth in 2018.
The research revealed that a third of this age group had lost their job in the pandemic, compared with one sixth of working-age adults generally, and that those currently on furlough expect to have an increased risk of later unemployment when the job retention scheme ends.
“Young people have been hit particularly hard by the economic disruption, which has affected their financial security and threatened their job prospects,” said Tim Elwell-Sutton, assistant director of strategic partnerships at the Health Foundation. The impact on the mental health of the under-24 age group is particularly worrying, he said. “It’s vital that young people get the support they need to get through this difficult period. Government needs to put young people at the heart of its recovery policies, to ensure they have the best chance of a healthy future.”
Erika Curbelo, 25, is a freelance trumpeter in London whose career was taking off with her first work for a major UK orchestra. When the country went into lockdown, every performance she had been booked for was cancelled. “It has been the first time in my life where I’ve had to start paying close attention to my mental health, because it has been very overwhelming,” she said. “It’s quite a depressing time, and I have been a lot more stressed than usual.”
Since lockdown, she has been forced to re-evaluate her career plans and has considered doing a law conversion course or retraining as an accountant. In the meantime, she has started teaching online.
“Teaching is not something I saw myself doing as my main area of work. I always saw myself performing, and teaching was something on the side.”
Almost half of people under 25 have changed their career plans since lockdown began because of fears the pandemic has put a halt to their future job prospects, according to separate report from YouGov on behalf of financial company TransferWise. It found that 65% of 16- to 25-year-olds currently furloughed in the UK have changed their plans in the past few months.
It is anticipated that the economic crisis would have profound effects on school and university leavers, with many expected to remain in education longer to avoid entering a crisis-hit labour market. John Holmwood, professor of sociology at Nottingham University, said that Covid-19 will exacerbate the inequality gap between students who can afford to delay entering the job market by pursuing a master’s degree, and their less privileged counterparts.
For postgraduate tuition fees, “there is no arrangement like the loans for undergraduate students”, he said. “At least with the undergraduate degree, students from whatever social background are technically facing a level playing field as far as fees are concerned. None of those arrangements are in place for a master’s degree, so obviously it favours students who are able to generate quite a sizeable sum of money.”