Overwhelmed and unemployed

How the pandemic has affected job prospects for young adults – and how to look after your mental health

Despite the loosening of lockdown and the cautious reopening of businesses, forecasts of a shrinking economy will significantly impact job prospects – especially those of young adults already suffering the double whammy of student debt and high rents.

Rising unemployment has been accompanied by a collapse in job vacancies which means there are now 8.5 unemployed people competing for every job opening, compared with just 1.5 before this crisis began, although the picture varies across the country.

Mental health experts say this is likely to have a significant negative impact on the mental health of many young adults, potentially blighting thousands of lives. Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centres across London, and Medical Director of the Priory’s Hospital in Hayes Groves near Bromley in South East London, says: “Work is the environment in which we spend most of our lives; it is central to our identity and self-esteem.

“For young adults, finding employment that ‘works’ for them is an important step towards a healthy and happy life, but at the moment all they see are barriers, closed doors and uncertainty. It could end up being very difficult for all but the most resilient and highly motivated to see past difficult times ahead.”

Dr Andrew Iles, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford, adds: “In the short term, uncertainty in the job market is likely to cause young people to worry about their finances, but, in the longer term, it can lead to greater fears about career development, especially for those just starting out or beginning to get a real ‘step on the ladder’ in their chosen career or workplace.

“Redundancy is one of life’s biggest stresses but for younger employees, it can lead to real feelings of fear and despondency. Securing the first break, and the all-important opportunity to prove yourself, is a significant hurdle, so being made redundant so soon in your career is likely to introduce feelings of self-doubt. Coupled with the fact that few people within this age group (possibly with young families and a lack of savings) can easily withstand a period of loss of earning, many may be left feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and low mood, and other symptoms such as disturbed sleep, loss of appetite and reduced concentration.”

Staying optimistic can be intensely difficult. Our Priory experts share their advice on how to keep positive and proactive while looking after your mental health:

Avoid rolling news

Rolling news and constant “breaking news” offer regular, and often unsolicited, reminders of a global recession.

Dr Iles says: “Whilst staying informed is important, there is a risk of becoming preoccupied by the news. The fact that the news is everywhere – on your TV, on your phone, on social media and in print – means it is all too easy to become drawn into mindless scrolling, particularly given that the displayed content is influenced by our browsing habits. If you find yourself falling into this trap, try to limit your exposure and reading time.”

“Rolling news is probably not going to help your mental health,” agrees Dr McLaren. “Choose one bulletin a day to listen to.”

Take a flexible approach to job hunting

When looking for jobs, you may find that certain hard-hit sectors are not hiring. However there might be opportunities, albeit temporary, that open up after July 4, if the hospitality industry is allowed to reopen for example.  

If you’re struggling to find vacancies within your industry, Dr McLaren suggests; “Try looking at what is available now and maybe ‘go with the flow’ for a while until the career you want starts to hire again. Your resourcefulness will be seen as a real strength by any employer, now or in the future.

“Many organisations have implemented recruitment freezes, but there are employers in the healthcare sector that are hiring, whilst roles such as delivery drivers and customer service assistants are becoming increasingly available in the so-called FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) industry. Not only will a different role give you work experience, but it will also allow you to develop transferable skills.”

Making yourself more employable

If you are currently between jobs, now is the best time to work on making yourself more employable, Dr Iles says. “Developing your CV and learning something new, even if the skills are not directly related to your chosen career, is important. It can contribute to your future job success and will provide much needed distraction.

“There are many online courses available, often free to access, to help you boost your skill set, and ask your friends to recommend you on networks like LinkedIn.”

Be resilient

It can be hard to remain positive when applying for jobs when you receive rejection emails, or often no response at all, but resilience is key.

According to Dr Iles: “It’s not easy at a time like this to convince some younger people who may not have experienced previous periods of social destabilisation or financial crisis that the job market will recover. However, an understanding of this will help create a more positive and hopeful mindset. 

“Resilience is learnt through experiencing adversity; it is often not something that is taught in the classroom. Under any circumstances, job searching is a stressful experience, but in order to endure additionally challenging times, whilst developing and retaining resilience, you must make wellbeing your first priortity. Good ways of doing this include maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, taking regular exercise, limiting alcohol use and staying connected to friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself: you need support of good friends and family to keep motivated. A friend may be very helpful in pointing you to a new job opportunity.

Experts also suggest setting goals, such as researching on applying for at least 2 jobs a day or making five phone calls every day or reaching out to two new people every week.

Spend time volunteering and getting more perspective into your life, is also urged. It is often quite helpful to understand that others are struggling as well, maybe even more than you. Your work does not define you as a person. You are not your job. Also, be kind to yourself and realistic about the timeframe for gaining new employment, and understand that you are more than this situation.

Recognising and managing stress

The uncertainty over job prospects can be extremely stressful and lead to feelings of anxiety about your own career and personal finances. Everyone experiences stress. It is normal and you are not alone. “Talking to other people in the same position and sharing your feelings can really help reduce stress and anxiety,” says Dr McLaren.

“Redundancy can be a major challenge at any age and leads to increased rates of emotional distress and mental illness, making it more difficult, in turn, to be positive when looking for a new position.

“Taking the opportunity to understand your stress response, know what it feels like and how it affects you and then make an effort to learn new skills to help manage those feelings. This is time that is very well spent. There are many different approaches to stress management, such as exercise, active relaxation and self-reflection. Some may find that mindfulness techniques work for them, whereas others may find other techniques more helpful for reducing stress. What is most important is whether it works for you and then practising it frequently.”

Author: Editorial Team

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