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Generation Covid: ‘It’s been the worst period of our lives’

  • New polling shows 18 to 34-year-olds are more likely to say their mental health “suffered significantly” than other age group
  • Nearly seven in 10 say the pandemic has been the most stressful and anxiety-ridden” period of their life
  • Many have experienced redundancy, or furlough, while struggling to meet the rent and repay student loans
  • Priory experts warn that mental health conditions among younger adults will not evaporate as lockdown eases

A new nationwide opinion poll1 has found that 60% of 18 to 34-year-olds say their mental health has “suffered significantly” during the pandemic – more than twice as high as the population as a whole (28%).

The poll, commissioned by Priory Group, the UK’s largest independent provider of mental health services, underlines concerns that older teens, and adults in their twenties and early thirties, have been worst hit – as a result of exam disruptions, university upheaval, and a precarious jobs market, impacting their mental and financial health. Many have been forced to return home to live with parents, fuelling cross-generational tensions.

The poll found that two thirds (67%) of 18 to 34-year-olds say this period in time is the most stressful and anxiety-ridden time of their lives, almost double the rate seen across all age groups (at 34%).

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Andrew Iles warns that the mental health impact of the pandemic will outlast the virus for some, risking depression, anxiety and stress.

“Where mental illness has been precipitated by the pandemic, it cannot be assumed that recovery will be achieved simply by ending lockdown restrictions,” he says.

The economic situation has been weighing particularly heavily on younger adults, with 62% of 18-34 year olds saying they are stressed about potentially losing their job, or worrying about a job they had lost, compared to just under a quarter (24%) of the population as a whole.

Many have seen their earnings fall and, with a tapered furlough scheme extended to September, the possibility of significant unemployment still looms. Those aged 25 and under are 2.5 times more likely to be without a job because of the pandemic than the 26-64 age group, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Studies have also shown that graduating during a recession can have a harmful effect on wages.

Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, says these factors are causing young people serious mental health difficulties, with joblessness leaving many with feelings of rejection, leading to depression. “Many people in this age group have lost their jobs and are consequently extremely stressed trying to find a job at the most difficult time,” he says. Young people are more likely to be furloughed than other groups, and this raises the spectre - again - of social isolation, coupled with economic hardship. “Many young adults work in vulnerable industries such as retail and hospitality,” he adds, “and those who are furloughed are getting extremely bored, frustrated, anxious and face an uncertain future”.

It is not just people whose jobs are at risk who are struggling. Dr Campbell says changes to work routines bring problems of their own; “Those younger adults who are working from home are finding it increasingly stressful and restrictive. In addition, many are drinking more alcohol than usual, and some are using more street drugs.”

More than half (54%) of 18 to 34-year-olds said the impact of the pandemic and lockdown had made it more likely that they will proactively seek help for their mental health, three times higher than the national rate of 18%. During the pandemic, newer ways of delivering mental health services remotely, such a Priory Connect, have made it easier for people to speak to a professional about their mental health issues from the comfort of home, and the research shows that younger adults are more willing to seek help than other age groups.

Dr Campbell and Dr Iles offer the following advice for those struggling with their mental health:

  • Avoid rolling news and ‘doom scrolling’
    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. If you find yourself falling into this trap, limit your exposure.”

  • Be as flexible as you can There might be opportunities, albeit temporary, that open up. If you’re struggling to find vacancies within your industry, try looking at what is available right now and ‘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

  • Prioritise your mental wellbeing
    Sleep and eat at regular times and take regular exercise outdoors. Redundancy and joblessness are major challenges at any age and lead to increased rates of emotional distress and mental illness, making it more difficult, in turn, to be positive when looking for a new position. Seek professional help from your GP if you need it, or access psychological online therapy. 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

  • Don’t isolate yourself
    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 priority. Don’t isolate yourself: you need the support of good friends and family to keep motivated, even if only by remote means at present. A friend may be very helpful in pointing you to a new opportunity

  • Keep away from excess alcohol and street drugs
    These are likely to fuel depression, and can cause serious addictions



Notes to editors

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Photos attached of Dr Iles and Dr Campbell

[1]An online survey was conducted by Atomik Research among 1,002 respondents from the UK. The research fieldwork took place on 12th February – 15th February 2021. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.



About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.

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