Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

October 31, 2017

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Mental health

Mental health focus: How can we help young vulnerable workers?

There has been a huge emphasis on the responsibility businesses have in understanding and supporting those with mental health conditions, especially with regard to the return to work process. But, with 50% of mental health problems established by age 14 and 75% by age 24, should we being doing more to support our children and young people – both in schools and the workplace – and what impact would more early intervention have on soaring rates of depression and anxiety?

Suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5-19 years, and the second most common for girls of this age – YoungMinds

The reality

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of children and young people (5-16) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had any early intervention at a sufficiently early age.

Further statistics show that the numbers of teenagers suffering depression and anxiety has increased by 70% in the past 25 years, with the number of children and young people turning up in A&E with a psychiatric condition more than doubling since 2009. A survey in 2016 showed that teachers are reporting increased rates of mental illness in pupils with 90 per cent of teachers stating that they think the issues are getting more severe.

With 1 in 3 adult mental health conditions relating directly to adverse childhood experiences,  it’s hard not to think there must be more we could be doing to help children and young people who are suffering mental ill health.


Teachers, parents and children are facing a “mental health crisis” in schools, according to charity YoungMinds. With increased pressures of exams, social media, problems at home, and bullying – school can be a very tough place for some young people.

82% of teachers agree that the focus on exams has become disproportionate to the overall wellbeing of students, according to a YouGov survey, while 70% think that the government should rebalance the education system to focus more on student wellbeing.

Experts say that the pressures of social media, fuelling body image anxiety, and increasing sexualisation, adds to the already difficult stresses of trying to succeed academically.

Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said: There is a mental health crisis in our classrooms. Children and young people today face a huge range of pressures, from exam stress to cyberbullying to finding a job when they finish education, and all the evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse.

“Schools are critical in helping prevent mental health problems escalating, in building wellbeing and resilience and helping young people learn the skills they need to cope in today’s world.

“Many schools are already doing excellent work, but too often they are hampered by competing pressures and a lack of resources. If the government is serious about tackling the crisis, it must rebalance the whole education system.”

Cyberbullying and social media is often blamed for adding pressures to young people – with bullying able to go past the school gates and into young people’s homes, often without parents being aware. Cyberbullying doesn’t just affect school aged children, it is often taking place in workplaces over email, text and social media.

20% of children and young people indicate fear of cyber bullies made them reluctant to go to school. – Bullying UK

In January, announcing her government’s plans to transform mental health in schools and workplaces, Prime Minister Theresa May, said: “What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.

“This starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched.

“This is a historic opportunity to right a wrong, and give people deserving of compassion and support the attention and treatment they deserve. And for all of us to change the way we view mental illness so that striving to improve mental wellbeing is seen as just as natural, positive and good as striving to improve our physical wellbeing”

The cost to the economy of all-age mental health problems is estimated at £105 billion a year – roughly the cost of the entire NHS – YoungMinds

Self harm and suicide

Self harm, which still has a huge stigma surrounding it, is on the rise with young people in the UK with the number of girls treated as hospital inpatients after cutting themselves nearly quadrupling in a decade. The number of girls under 18 receiving hospital treatment after poisoning themselves has almost doubled.

A report by The University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH) looked at the personal circumsatnces of 130 people under the age of 20 in England who died by suicide between January 2014 and April 2015.

The researchers found that 28% of the young people who died had been bereaved, in 13% there had been a suicide by a family member or friend. 36% had a physical health condition such as acne or asthma, and 29% were facing exams or exam results when they died. Four died on the day of an exam, or the day after.

Samaritans’ Head of External Affairs Jacqui Morrissey says: “Samaritans’ work supporting teachers encourages young people to know where to go and seek help when dealing with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. When academic pressures or relationship and family stresses can seem too much, young people need to have coping strategies to deal with those stresses in a constructive way, and be encouraged to talk about how they feel.

“Suicide is complex. Growing up is complex. If you’re a parent, a carer, a friend or a teacher concerned about a child or young person’s emotional wellbeing, contact a GP, speak to each other, share concerns and make sure that young person gets the appropriate support. “

At the end of 2016 Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said mental health services for children and adolescents were the “biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision”.

Saying that a failure to intervene early enough when problems such as eating disorders emerged, which meant that “too many tragedies” were occurring.

Bullying at work articles from SHP’s Dr Flis:

When dealing with workplace bullying, knowledge is power: a mental health strategy

Spotting the difference between a bully & fear-motivated behaviour

The workplace

Research has shown that nearly half of young people in part-time jobs suffer mental health problems, with temporary work putting young people’s mental health at ‘greater risk’ than those in full-time employment.

The research shows that younger workers – those born since 1982 – in temporary roles are 29% more likely to experience mental health problems compared to those in permanent jobs, with this likelihood increases to 43% among those working in part-time jobs.

The report notes that the shift in working patterns, and increasing use of zero-hours contracts, is having a tangible negative impact on young workers’ mental health.  Job insecurity had a direct link with mental health, the report suggested with those who believed they had more than a 50%% chance of losing their job twice as likely to experience mental health problems.

IPPR Senior Research Fellow, Craig Thorley said: “Good work can help people to lead mentally healthy lives. But for a significant number of young people, their experiences of the modern world of work would appear to be putting their mental health and wellbeing at greater risk. This is particularly true of those who cannot access permanent or secure work, or who are graduates in non-graduate roles.

“Government and employers should work together to promote better quality jobs which maximise the benefits of flexibility, while ensuring that employees feel in control of their own working lives.  Without finding ways to support younger workers to progress in their careers, a significant number risk becoming trapped in a cycle of low-pay, with few prospects and low wellbeing.”


RoSPA last year conducted an Inquiry into the Health and Safety Needs of Apprentices, which revealed a disconnect between young people and the workplace.

It found that there is a need for greater advice for young people about occupational health and wellbeing, and that the communication methods used to convey this should exploit the types of everyday technology and media with which young people are most familiar.

Karen McDonnell, occupational safety and health policy adviser at RoSPA said that the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) publication Flexibility for Who? Millenials and mental health in the Modern labour Market reinforced this idea, through exploring the mental health and wellbeing challenges posed by the ‘future work’ of young workers: jobs which are much more likely to be part-time temporary or self-employed, and for which young people are likely to be overqualified.

Next steps

As with all areas of health and safety, we need to a be aware of risks and aware of controls. Knowing that so many young people entering the workforce could be dealing with mental ill health, diagnosed or undiagnosed, is a big responsibility. Ensuring young vulnerable workers feel secure in their roles seems paramount, and offering support and help with mental and physical health, and ensuring that all workers have a safe place to go for support is key. To find out more about supporting your workers click here.








What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


Related Topics

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 years ago

Not forgetting the pressure and demand to perform optimally and sustainably when probably experiencing the debilitating affects of Screen Fatigue and at risk of “approval deprivation” !