Evaluation Blog #8: Rethinking Mental Health and Youth Employment?

On November 18th former London Mayor Ken Livingstone responded to criticisms from Labour MP Kevan Jones by publicly stating that he was “obviously very depressed and disturbed” and “should see a GP”.  Jones has a history of mental ill health.  Sadly, such incidents and damaging attitudes are still very common in UK society, and not just in the often disconnected and childish world of politics.  Such views and behaviours discourage open and honest conversations about mental health and feed stigma.

Livingstone’s initial refusal to apologise highlights the way that mental health still lags behind other areas in terms of social attitudes.   This is perhaps surprising given that mental ill health is on the rise in the UK.  Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Each experience is different as is the nature of support needed.  Mental health and well-being is a complex issue which often requires specialist support.  Unfortunately, as mental health concerns grow mental health services have been cut in recent years as part of the Government’s austerity drive (although £600m of additional funding was announced by George Osborne in Wednesday’s statement on the UK economy – a ray of light in these dark times for public services).

Youth mental health issues in particular are a growing concern.  This is especially the case for the longer-term unemployed.  Since the start of the Talent Match (TM) programme a very large number of those working with beneficiaries have reported mental health issues as a key barrier to work.  But, poor mental health and well-being can impact on all aspects of everyday life, not just work.  Many TM key workers have seen a much higher than anticipated number of young people facing some form of mental health or well-being issue.

The rate is difficult to pinpoint as some people find it difficult to talk about openly (for one reason, see Livingstone comments above).  Data from Talent Match beneficiaries show that 18 per cent have experienced mental ill health, but this undoubtedly an underestimate.

Recent case study research as part of the TM evaluation focuses on mental health and well-being in response to these concerns.  It took place in three TM partnerships: Leeds City-Region; Liverpool City-Region; and New Anglia.  The research draws on interviews with TM beneficiaries, delivery partners and other TM folk in trying to aid understanding.  It focuses on the experiences of TM beneficiaries facing mental health issues, support services available through TM and how partnerships are responding. One surprising aspect of the research was the way that many young people spoke so openly about mental health.  Perhaps attitudes are changing through the generations?

The report highlights the difficulties partnerships face in accessing mental health services such as counselling.  But it also details the invaluable support of TM key workers in helping people through very difficult circumstances.

Ultimately though, big changes are needed, requiring changes in social attitudes as well as systems.  Mental health services strike me as one area where less funding would certainly not produce better services, given current waiting times for accessing support.  However, the novel and “big-thinking” approach of TM Liverpool outlined in the report offers a positive example that could perhaps be copied elsewhere. It could also alter the way we think about “youth” mental health, and for the better.

Ryan Powell, CRESR
26 November 2015



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