Supporting young people's mental health in the workplace

Supporting young people's mental health in the workplace

Published: 8 May 2015

You know that feeling you get before an interview or first day at work? Sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in your tummy? These feelings can be a natural part of feeling nervous in anticipation of a situation where you want to do your best. However, imagine those feelings multiplied under pressure to perform, deliver and meet targets, meet new people, and travel to a place you've never been to. I'm sure you can feel your stress levels rising. Then imagine you're fresh out of school or college and you have a mental health condition, and you're about to enter the workplace with no support. That's a pretty frightening thought.   

This is what is happening across the country according to a recent study undertaken by the national social action charity Fixers, supported by Simplyhealth. Evidence collated with around 265 young people with experience of mental ill health, from across the UK, has found an alarming number are being excluded from the workplace because of lack of support and understanding by employers.
The most common issue affecting young people's mental health in the workplace is the lack of an inclusive and supportive work environment. Interview techniques can be discriminative, such as being asked to account for periods of unemployment and facing the decision to disclose their mental health issue, with a fear of being rejected for the role as one young person explained: 

"There's the question of whether you should declare the fact that you have a mental health condition in the application process. There's always the fear that you might not get the job or how employers will see you."

Young people also talked about how employers and colleagues demonstrated poor understanding of mental health conditions and a general lack of support from colleagues: 

"For me it's mainly other people not understanding what you're going through. I have OCD and there have been instances where some of my colleagues have played pranks on me or tried to humiliate me. Sometimes I hear them talking about me like I'm a freak or something, which can be really hard to deal with."
The lack of mechanisms in place to support young people during periods of mental ill health was also raised by young people across the UK. This prompted some to leave employment because they couldn't cope and in other cases lead to direct disciplinary action against young people:

"I once had an episode at work and I was actually reprimanded for it because they said I didn't tell them I had a mental health disorder and I ended up getting into trouble for it."

What's unique about this study, however, is that while the young people shared difficult  experiences they also told employers, who came to meet them at a national conference 'The Feel Happy Fix Live 2015' what they could do to help young people with mental health conditions in the workplace.

Young people really want to see line managers undertake mental health training as part of company policy and an accredited 'Mental Health' certificate awarded to signify that the employer is a 'Mental Health' friendly place to work.

More practical policy solutions were shared too, like introducing a staged approach to work for the first time, or after a period of illness. Having a workplace 'buddy' with influence in the organisation, to provide ongoing support, was also a top solution offered by the Fixers.

The study has shown a need for this under researched area to be examined.

Quite simply, if employers feel they could do more to support young people with mental health conditions in the workplace, who better to listen to then the potential employees of tomorrow?

(A full report of the study is due to be published this summer.)

By Social action charity Fixers

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