It’s not easy being a teen. If uncertainty over what to do with one’s life and peer pressure weren’t enough, teenagers also have to deal with intense mood swings, manifested more often as lows than as highs. Although it’s assumed they will grow out of their sulkiness come adulthood, those lows could stick with them and hurt their employment prospects later in life, according to new research published in Social Science and Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Stirling looked at the employment patterns of more than 7,000 Americans, which included nearly 3,000 pairs of siblings, over a 12 year period and found that, irrespective of socio-economic background, distressed adolescents — those who were nervous or depressed most of the time — were more likely to be jobless in early adulthood than those who were calm or happy.
The data showed that people who suffered from high levels of anxiety or extreme feelings of unhappiness between the ages of 16 and 20 were 32 percent more likely to be unemployed, and 26 percent more likely to be unemployed or out of the workforce in early adulthood. Researchers compared the distressed teens to their non-distressed siblings with the same background to control for “unobserved family background characteristics” which may explain the relationship between emotional distress and unemployment, researchers wrote. However, these results held even when distressed teens were compared to their non-distressed siblings, suggesting that emotional problems carry a heavy penalty.
"These findings provide strong evidence that distressed adolescents are vulnerable to unemployment and suggest that this vulnerability increased during the recent difficult economic period following the Great Recession,” researcher Mark Egan said in a statement.
According to the study, the adverse impact psychological distress had on job prospects grew in the years following the Great Recession which lasted from 2007 to 2009, with those with an increased history of distress experiencing a pronounced uptick in joblessness.
Given the strong correlation between emotional distress and employment prospects, Egan believes treating mental health issues in early life could possibly benefit the economy.
"Investing in childhood and adolescent mental health services could have economic benefits including reducing population-level unemployment,” Egan explained. “Widening access to effective treatments for early life distress could lead to large economic returns by helping individuals into employment and increasing their lifetime earnings.”
Past research has found that unemployment itself can further take a toll on mental health, causing a vicious cycle and likely worsening a person’s chances of ever getting employed. A 2014 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness revealed that more than 80 percent of adults with serious mental illness were unemployed in 2012, which was significantly higher than the unemployment rate for the U.S. population that year.
Researchers said their findings help illustrate the economic benefits of investing in adolescent mental health services. They recommend community initiatives that promote resilience by supporting unemployed persons and offering “fully voluntary access to appropriate mental health services where needed.”
Source; Egan M, Daly M, Delaney L. Adolescent psychological distress, unemployment, and the Great Recession: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997. Social Science & Medicine. 2016.