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The startling truth about Student and grad mental

Patrick Watt

A new report from the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) has revealed worrying stats about the mental health of students and graduates in the UK. Contributor Patrick Watt, leader of the CMHA graduate mental health programme and Corporate Director – Bupa CMHA.

Of the 519 UK graduates and students surveyed planning to apply for a job within financial, legal and professional services in this country, 69 percent described themselves as having experienced rare to severe mental health issues. Respondents said they had lived with a range of issues, with 58 percent saying they had experienced anxiety, 48 percent depression and 33 percent said they had experienced panic attacks. 18 percent of respondents said they have self-harmed.

The data goes on to show that 64 percent of young jobseekers are worried about stigma and they believe telling a prospective employer about past or current mental health issue would negatively impact their chances of securing a role.

Only 40 percent said they would feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with their manager, whereas 73 percent would be comfortable talking about physical health issues (such as flu, diabetes and back pain). Over half (56 percent) of respondents who took a day off for a mental health issue would prefer to cite physical illness as the reason for absence instead. Meanwhile, 41 percent say they would try to avoid ever disclosing to their employer that they lived with a long-term mental health issue.

Other key findings from the report include:

Early careers job seekers have a wide range of worries – 74 percent of graduates and students are concerned about meeting the expectations of new employers, while 78 percent are worried about cost of living in a big City. 62 percent are worried about the impact of a new job on their mental health.

Employer mental health policies matter – 85 percent of respondents said that their prospective employer’s policy or approach to mental health was important, with 83 percent more likely to apply to an employer who was more open about their commitment to mental health.

Graduate recruiters aren’t talking about the subject enough – 76 percent of respondents said that they didn’t have any information about any mental health or wellbeing support from prospective employers, with 1 in 4 intending to ask prospective employers about dedicated policies.

Patrick Watt, leader of the CMHA graduate mental health programme and Corporate Director at Bupa said: “The results of our survey make it very clear that people planning to start careers within the traditionally stressful financial, legal and professional services industries are conscious about the potential impact on their mental health. They are also, quite rightly, judging a potential employer on their mental health and wellbeing policies, and these stats are a wake-up call to law firms, banks, insurance companies and accountancy firms who aren’t prioritising mental health across the country.”

“Our vision is that employees entering the workplace should feel able to talk openly about their mental health issues from day one, without fear of damaging their career prospects. This is important, first, because we know that early intervention and support is the key to recovery and, in the case of long-term mental health issues, is critical for the management of the condition and allowing people to thrive. Second, these job seekers are the business leaders of the future. If employees experience an open culture from the very start, then good practice will be embedded into organisational culture for future years.”

The CMHA and its members are currently looking at how businesses can improve their approach to graduate recruitment and early years development to ensure that experience of mental health issues are not a barrier to career and that support is readily available from the outset. The CMHA will also collaborating with the higher education sector to explore ways to improve this transition period for graduates.

Anastasia Vinnikova, a member of the Early Careers Recruitment Team and the Mental Health Network Co-Chair at the Bank of England said:

“As a recruiter, over the last few years I have noticed that the student narrative on campus is changing. Increasingly, we are approached by students who are concerned about how their mental health and wellbeing needs are going to be met by future employers. We are fortunate that at the Bank of England we have a holistic and broad mental health offering, but it is deeply concerning that this surprises students – they simply don’t expect organisations to care about their mental wellbeing.

“Mental health issues can affect anyone, at any level of an organisation, but we must acknowledge that a transition from education into work can be particularly impactful, and it is imperative that employers help to support Early Careers entrants through this. The worrying survey results released today by CMHA reinforces this responsibility.”

 Victoria Sinclair, Charity Manager at Nightline Association said: “Nightline peer-support volunteers took over 36,000 calls from students in 2017, and the main topic they wanted to discuss was issues with their mental health. These survey results are concerning, but I’m afraid they are not surprising given the numbers of students reporting problems with their mental health and the potential for the transition from university into the workplace to exacerbate this.

Nightline Association welcomes these survey results from the CMHA, which shine a light on the vital work that needs to be done to address the transition for graduates entering the workplace. This is an opportunity for businesses to promote themselves to graduates by, firstly, acknowledging the potential impact of this transition and, secondly, considering what they can do to attract those who may be looking at employer’s mental health policies as they embark on new careers.

“Environments and communities have a big influence on our mental wellbeing, and workplaces are a big part of that. Employers can play their part in supporting young graduates to thrive in the workplace – getting this transition right will help improve wellbeing and reduce stress in the long run”

Poppy Jaman OBE, CEO of City Mental Health Alliance comments on the report: “Millions of people spend the majority of their waking hours in the workplace. Alliance members are working hard to create mentally healthy workplaces in financial, legal and professional services and the CMHA aspires to be at the forefront of setting the pace of change for the rest of the UK. Our work now includes a significant focus on early careers transition, where there is clearly still much more that needs to be done.

“If people are able to talk about their mental health issues, at every stage of their career, their jobs can be adjusted in a way that enhances their whole life so that they can thrive in the workplace. Employers need to create a culture of openness in order to attract talent and sustain business success. This is the right thing to do because it is people that make businesses great.”

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