How can young people with mental illness find a job?

How do you find a job if you are young and have a mental health problem? With a children’s charity estimating up to one-third of young people have mental health issues, is Britain sleep-walking into a culture of youth unemployment asks Jesse Whittock

The Prince’s Trust/YouGov Youth Index found that one in 10 children did not think life was worth living. It followed findings by Ofsted’s Tellus report last October that a substantial number of Britain’s young people are unhappy with life.

Taken together, Prince’s Trust chief executive Martina Milburn believes this paints a picture of Britain’s young people as “increasingly vulnerable”.

A key factor in young people’s mental health is employment – the Prince’s Trust research found that those not in education, employment or training (Neets) were most likely to feel depressed. With the recession reducing job prospects, fears are growing that more young people, from Neets to graduates, could experience mental health problems, which in turn could have serious consequences for their life chances.

Negative stereotype

The Children’s Society estimates 10-30% of the 16-25 population have a mental health problem, and that this is exacerbated by society’s negative stereotype of them.

Kathy Evans, policy director at The Children’s Society, suggests these cultural attitudes towards teenagers are “confusing and contorting”. She says: “On the one hand, there are extremely high expectations for achievement. But on the other we demonise them. The starting assumption about teenagers needs to be realistic.”

This contributes to a vicious circle, Evans adds, where the public mistakenly label mental health problems in young people as antisocial behaviour.

YoungMinds director of policy Lucie Russell agrees. “If you haven’t got money you end up relying on the state and this creates dependency. Your support group might end up coming from the street, or be a drinking or drugs community.”


Russell says the huge stigma around mental health problems makes many young people unemployable in the eyes of some. “It’s such a major taboo that it’s going to affect employment. Young people will make up things on job applications or lie because employers won’t understand [their condition]. They are forced to jump through hoops [to find employment].”

Ginny Lunn, head of policy at the Prince’s Trust, says failure to gauge a mental health problem early on can have huge consequences. She says: “A lot of kids have problems which will spiral if you don’t address them quickly.” Organisations that can help are often invisible to young people, Lunn adds.


The Prince’s Trust runs a programme called Team for unemployed 16- to 25-year-olds so that they can develop practical life skills. Over the 12-week course, they undertake voluntary work, receive help with job hunting and work towards a City and Guilds qualification.

The trust estimates that one-third of the participants have mental health problems of differing severity. Identifying problems early on is one way to prevent them developing further.

Actively contributing to their community is vital to young people’s development and mental well-being. The Prince’s Trust claims four in five who complete the Team course leave in a strong position to positively contribute to society. Many return to the course as assistant group leaders or go on to paid employment.


It is this paid work that Russell says is particularly rewarding: “It’s not just the mental impact of it. You need to be doing things that are meaningful, even if the work isn’t that exciting.”

More investment in support services is needed to aid mental well-being in the young. However, such funding can be difficult for charities to acquire. Lunn says: “The process of identifying where money is available for successful programmes has become even more difficult due reduced investment available and complex funding systems.”

Although Tellus suggests a significant minority of young people are in danger of long-term problems arising from their mental well-being issues, campaigners are  more positive. They argue that these young people can lead productive lives with the support of employers.

“We need a long-term campaign that changes hearts and minds, like those for stopping smoking and wearing seatbelts,” Russell says. “Employers should realise that people with mental health problems are not alien to us.”

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