Opinion: The bluest Monday

Young people across the UK are losing all hope for the future, a new report from The Prince’s Trust confirms. Two days on from what could be described as the bluest Monday of all time, Richard Dawson surveys the wreckage COVID-19 has left behind when it comes to mental health and wellbeing

Created by a holiday company in 2004 to drive up bookings in the new year, Blue Monday has long since entered the lexicon of British conversation.

The third Monday in January has the grim accolade of being the most depressing day of the year.

It’s a day when even those who have pushed time off over the festive period to its absolute limits are back at work, a day when the weather in England is typically at its wettest and coldest and when household finances are hurting from Christmas and waiting desperately for that January pay day.

This year Blue Monday fell on January 18, two days ago.

We are currently in the third and potentially longest national lockdown, hospital admissions and deaths from coronavirus are at an all-time high and new COVID-19 mutations have severely hampered containment efforts.

Meanwhile, all bars, restaurants, cafes and pretty much anywhere we would go to have fun are closed, as are all non-essential shops. Workers are once again at home, many of them having never returned to the office. Millions are on furlough wondering if they’ll have jobs to go back to and in the North East, it’s been at least 12 weeks since any of us had a decent pint.

Coupled with the sense of impending doom that has been the hallmark of this pandemic since the beginning, and could it be that 2021 has just played host to the bluest Monday of all time?

I have long been concerned about the heavy psychological cost of lockdown, social distancing, isolation and the uncertainty and insecurity that follow.

While our confinement is necessary for containing the spread of COVID-19, make no mistake it is accelerating the spread of mental ill health.

Unfortunately, much of the data that will confirm this irrefutably is not yet available and won’t be for some time.

Suicides rates for 2019 were only made available by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last September and we’ll have to wait until at least this September to find out what happened in 2020.

That being said, an important new report from The Prince’s Trust is already providing insights into the “devastating toll” the pandemic is having on the mental wellbeing of young people.

The Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index finds that one in four young people (26 per cent) admit they feel “unable to cope with life”, increasing to 40 per cent for those not in work, education or training (NEET).

Even more strikingly, half of all young people (50 per cent) say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic.

The Youth Index is conducted by YouGov and gauges young people’s happiness and confidence levels across a range of areas.

This year’s report surveyed 2180 people aged between 16 and 25.

It suggests that more young people are feeling anxious than ever before in the history of the index.

More than half of all survey respondents (56 per cent) say they “always” or “often” feel anxious, rising to a staggering 64 per cent for NEET young people.

This equates to more than three million youngsters when inferred on the UK population.

Jonathan Townsend, UK chief executive at The Prince’s Trust, says: “The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“They face a disrupted education, a shrinking jobs market and isolation from their friends and loved ones, and as a result, too many are losing all hope for the future.

“As ever, it is unemployed young people – and those with few qualifications and little confidence – who have an even more negative experience.”

The report also shows that almost a quarter of young people (23 per cent) do not feel confident about their future work.

More than half (54 per cent) say it is harder to ask for employment help and among NEET youngsters, almost half (48 per cent) can’t see an end to their unemployment.

To say that something must be done to address this mental health crisis among young people is an understatement.

The fact that those not in employment have the most anxiety and the least confidence about the future means that finding jobs these youngsters will be key.

The Government’s Kickstart Scheme should help in this regard, but clearly ministers must go much, much further.

UK mental health services that were already under-resourced and over-stretched before the pandemic must be given adequate funding to meet the exponential growth in demand that is surely now coming through.

The vaccine rollout holds promise that the third Monday in January 2022 will not be as blue as this one has been but, in the meantime, it’s imperative that our support systems hold for those who are quite understandably struggling in these extraordinarily difficult times.