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Young unemployment and the mental health challenges it can lead to

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

There’s an old joke that says the two most stressful things are being unemployed and having a job. I think we can all agree that being unemployed is far more gruelling, and new research suggests that young people are especially susceptible.

The proportion of young people (aged 15–24) that are employed has decreased in recent years. According to research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the unemployment rate of people within this age bracket, as of 2019, was 12 per cent. In 2020, this figure increased to 16 per cent, likely a result of the pandemic.

While this figure dropped to 11 per cent as of April 2021, this is still far above the current national level of 3.8 per cent.


Studies show that unemployment can lead to long-term mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. In January 2021, forty-three per cent of unemployed people had poor mental health, compared to 27 per cent of those who were employed.

These themes can lead to somewhat of a paradox, as good mental health has been observed to lead to increased employability and chance of retaining the job.

Further compounding this, industries that reportedly have a higher level of young workers, such as hospitality, were closed during the pandemic.

Young workers, especially those with mental health issues, seem to be getting hit from all fronts.

In fact, the Scaling, integrating and better supporting people with mental disorders to engage in employment and/or education report revealed that “Australians with severe and persistent mental disorders experience some of the highest rates of unemployment. Yet, people who live with these mental disorders want to work. The evidence demonstrates that engaging in meaningful work improves not only their health but their access to the financial, social, and other resources necessary to improve their mental health and quality of life whilst reducing dependency on the health and welfare systems.”

Leaders can do their part to help turn these unfortunate statistics around by recognising the value of young workers and creating an inclusive place that caters to those who may suffer from mental health challenges.

SafeWork identified some hazards that can pose a risk to people struggling with mental health challenges. Things like stress, bullying, fatigue, and violence can all heighten issues and significantly impact employee wellbeing. Stamping out these issues should be of top concern for leaders.

Following SafeWork’s mentally healthy workplace principles can make dealing with issues easier:

  • Mental health is everyone’s responsibility and is led by business leaders.
  • Mental health is considered in every way you do business.
  • Everyone contributes to a culture where people feel safe and supported to talk about mental health.
  • Mental health support is tailored for individuals and teams.
  • Everyone can see you’re finding better ways to support workers’ mental health.
Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.