Belfast Telegraph

Shocking new report by Prince's Trust shines light on link with youth unemployment and depression

BY CLAIRE McNEILLY

Unemployment has a more devastating effect on young people in Northern Ireland than in any other UK region – with widespread mental health problems as a result, it has been warned.

Stark new research has laid bare a direct link between joblessness and suicidal thoughts, as well as self-harming, alcohol and drug abuse.

A study for The Prince's Trust found that over one-in-three (35%) youngsters here had experienced mental health issues, compared to a UK national average of almost one-in-five (19%).

It also revealed that long-term unemployed 16 to 25-year-olds are twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants, and believe they have nothing to live for.

Ian Jeffers, director of The Prince's Trust in Northern Ireland, said the report comes at a time when long-term youth unemployment has shot up by 197% since the start of the recession in 2008.

"Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people," he said.

"Thousands wake up every day believing that life isn't worth living, after struggling for years in the dole queue.

"Across Northern Ireland, 5,450 young people are facing long-term unemployment and there is a real danger that these young people will feel hopeless, as well as jobless.

"Our research highlights that unemployed young people are significantly less likely to ask for help if they are struggling to cope," Mr Jeffers added.

"Our message to them is this: organisations like The Prince's Trust are supporting young people like you every day, helping them back into work, education or training.

"You are not alone and you need not struggle alone."

Among the grim findings, it emerged that unemployed young women in Northern Ireland are more susceptible to the effects of mental illness than their male counterparts. These devastating symptoms include self-loathing, insomnia, feeling inferior and anger management issues, according to the report.

The poll also revealed:

* Over one-in-three (34%) young people here said they 'always' or 'often' feel down or depressed, compared to a national average 32%, with the long-term unemployed significantly more likely to feel this way.

* One-in-four (29%) said they feel like an 'outcast', compared with 24% nationally, with the report finding that the long-term unemployed are significantly more likely to feel this way.

* More than one-in-five (21%) admitted they feel like a 'waste of space', against a national average of 17%, with the long-term unemployed more than twice as likely to feel this way.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said the research proves that unemployment is a public health issue.

"It is one that must be tackled urgently and it is essential that youth unemployment is added to the public health agenda," she said.

"Unemployed young people are struggling in many aspects of their lives – from their mental health and wellbeing, to their relationships and their qualifications, and we must act quickly to end this."

The Prince's Trust, which tackles youth unemployment in every region and country of the UK, last year worked with 3,278 disadvantaged young people in areas across Northern Ireland and in The Prince's Trust Belfast Centre.

The youth charity is now calling for urgent support from government, health agencies and employers to fund its vital work with long-term unemployed young people battling mental health issues.

The youth charity said it would support 58,000 disadvantaged young people this year.

Around 280 of those surveyed were not in employment, education or training, 166 had been unemployed for over six months and 135 had been jobless for a year or more.

Joblessness is punishing our young, says charity boss

Young people in Northern Ireland are continuing to suffer from an intolerably high level of unemployment – a punishing legacy of the recession.

Almost one in five young people looking for a job at present cannot find one in today's marketplace, according to youth charity The Prince's Trust.

The sustained problem, which has been exacerbated by the recession, has prompted a sharp deterioration in mental health and wellbeing.

Indeed, Ian Jeffers (right), director of The Prince's Trust in Northern Ireland, said that over the past five years there has been an ongoing issue with depression among 16 to 25-year-olds, with those in long-term unemployment most severely affected.

"Northern Ireland's youth joblessness is currently sitting at around 20%, or one in five," said Mr Jeffers.

"We're broadly in line with the UK average, but in certain parts of Belfast and Londonderry we have extremely high levels of unemployment, which really bucks the whole trend and it's significantly higher than the national average.

"It's in those areas, where there is a distinct lack of employment prospects, that young people really start to feel a sense of despair because they see their friends are not in jobs and they can't see a better future for themselves.

"We're quietly optimistic about the economy improving this year but it will take months if not years to filter through to the young people we're dealing with so we're continuing to work as hard as possible to find training opportunities for the long-term unemployed."

He added: "Three out of four young people we engage with will end up in education, employment or training so we know what we do works."

Last month it emerged that the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland (7.5%) is now back above the UK rate, which stands at 7.4%.

And while there are positive signs to suggest that the local economy is improving, questions have been raised over how best to tackle the issue of NEETS – young people who are not in education, employment or training.

As in many countries, Northern Ireland's youth fared badly during the recession due to a collapse in the jobs available.

A lack of qualifications and protracted periods of being out-of-work were two further hurdles when it came to accessing the labour market, which in turn has implications for future chances of finding jobs.

Mr Jeffers said the problem of long-term joblessness was a major issue among the young people the charity endeavours to help.

"The young people we're dealing with have very few role models to look up to in their communities or their families," he said.

"Where you're seeing second or third generation unemployment, for example, brothers and mothers and aunts and uncles who aren't working, that has a cyclical effect without a doubt."

It was a very bleak time in my life, I was having panic attacks and felt I didn't have a purpose on earth

A brave young woman has told of the helplessness and despair that led to panic attacks when she was unable to find a job.

Caroline McCusker (24) – described as introverted as a youngster, and lacking in confidence and self-esteem – left school with eight GCSEs and A-Levels.

However, following personal problems at home, she found herself on her own and feeling helpless and isolated.

"It was a very bleak time in my life, I started to have panic and anxiety attacks and I felt like I didn't have a purpose on earth," she said.

"My expectations for the future were very low and my confidence was damaged by the lack of faith from the people who were supposed to support me."

It was at this time, four years ago, that her sister saw an advertisement for The Prince's Trust Team Programme and encouraged Caroline to sign up.

"I was 20 years old and had been unemployed for a year," Caroline said.

"It was hard to motivate myself but one positive thing I did was to start driving lessons and I passed my test two years later."

Caroline said she was nervous before starting the programme, but she was also looking forward to being involved in something at last.

"The trust helped me in a way the school system never could have," she said. "Team helped me to build my skills, to believe in myself and gave me the safe environment I needed to talk to people and work collectively. We ended up being nominated for a national award."

After completing the Team Programme, Caroline then went on to study at university and in 2012 she graduated from the University of Ulster with a First Class Honours Degree in Fine and Applied Arts.

In 2013, Caroline returned to The Prince's Trust and enrolled on the Enterprise Programme – she had a business idea but needed additional support to set up.

"The best part of the Enterprise Programme has been the endless support I have received from the staff, volunteers and my mentor, both during and after the programme," she said.

"I was also able to secure funding from Invest NI which would not have been possible without help from the trust.

"I know how hard it is to just sign up for a programme, I was frightened myself, but I would advise anyone out there who is feeling low or isolated to challenge themselves to take part and realise their potential.

"For me the Team Programme was a brilliant experience and I would recommend it to any young person."

"Now I have a purpose and, at last, I am doing exactly what I want to do.

"I never thought I would work for myself but I am thoroughly enjoying it and learning so much.

"This year I worked at more than a hundred events and have loved every minute. I do have high hopes for the future and am very excited about the coming year.

"The trust has helped me to achieve so much and has given me the confidence and the belief that you can do anything that you want to in life," Caroline added.

Even though I was pretty driven, there were times when I felt very alone. I had nobody to turn to for help

A young Northern Ireland ex-Army trainee has spoken of his difficulties securing employment in today's job market.

Ryan Shaw, from Ballyclare, had a difficult upbringing, which resulted in him going into care for a period of time when he was aged just 14.

He left school with few qualifications and joined the Army at 16, where he trained for 18 months. Despite having very little support, Ryan, who is now 19, said he was determined to try to make a life for himself.

"I knew from an early age that it was down to me to build my own future," he said. "But even though I was pretty driven, there were times when I was depressed and wondered whether things were going to work out for me."

After leaving the Army, the Co Antrim man completed an IT management course, hoping to then go to university. However, as he was unable to secure the financial backing, he ended up signing on.

"Things were pretty difficult and at times I felt very alone, I literally had no-one to turn to for help," Ryan said.

It was at Antrim Job Centre that he met an outreach executive with The Prince's Trust, who introduced him to the Team programme. Following training, Ryan joined the advertising and marketing department in the Belfast Telegraph for a week's work experience.

"I got talking to some of the staff over lunch, telling them how much I was enjoying my time there and that I would love to stay on," he said.

"Next thing I knew, they asked me if I was interested in a paid internship with another part of the newspaper and I started the following Monday."

He has been with Belfast Telegraph for three months and hopes to secure a second internship at the end of January.

"I have been so lucky, thanks to the Team programme and The Prince's Trust," says Ryan. "Thankfully it is working out for me but there are plenty of young people who maybe don't have the strength to push through on their own and I would definitely encourage them to get in touch with The Prince's Trust."

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