I'm sure my heart broke last week when on the train home when I heard the following conversation between 4 young women. They were bubbly and chatty, looked geeky with their school back packs, badges and glasses. One young woman of colour, one of asian ethnicity, and two caucasisians. I'd guess they were aged around 13.  They joined the train and jostled to the space between the carriages, mostly chatting about homework and friends, and movies. But then the conversation changed, there was a pause and one pipped up... 

Girl 1: You know A (I'll anonymise), she's off with depression.

Girl 2: I know, I heard. 

Girl 3: I don't know if I've told you this but I feel depressed too. 

Girl 1: What?!!

Girl 2: Are you sure? What's up? 

Girl 3: [Sigh].. it just doesn't seem worth it..

Girl 4: [touches Girl 3 on the arm] I have anxiety, went to the doctors with mum last week. 

Girl 1: It's everywhere you know, it's so hard to handle everything

[Everyone is quiet for a moment]

Girl 2: but what about...

...and the conversation moved on. Struck me right in the heart because they are 13 years old, and they are :

a) conscious of depression and anxiety. Were you at 13??? I wasn't. 

b) they're able to share it with their friends which is hugely reassuring as dealing with this alone is not good. 

c) they moved on in the conversation so quickly! As though it's so common, there's nothing else to say. That's either fantastic as it's relaxed and not being made into a big deal or they're desensitised to the significance of this. 

Perhaps you're thinking... aren't all young people anxious and depressed?  The answer is no. According to the NHS one in four young people will experience depression before they are 19 years old. 

Or maybe you're thinking... "pah, snowflakes, we've always had difficulties it's just that this lot go on about it". Well the answer here is no too.  "Rates of depressive episodes and serious psychological distress have dramatically risen among these age groups in recent years, while hardly budging or even declining for older age groups."  Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University who has studied over 600,000 Americans across different age groups between 2005 to 2017.

We all know that Gen Z are entering the workforce and that their high-tech and hyper-connected upbringing means they will bring a new set of behaviors, expectations, and preferences into the workplace. They also bring a new set of responsibilities. 

What can we and should we be doing about this as employers?

For the purposes of this blog I'm going to focus on the recruitment stage of the employee life cycle. Recruitment process are a natural source of stress. Some may need extra support or may not put their best selves forward for you to see.  

Whilst researching this I found very little literature about this: supporting mental health in recruitment. As there isn't a list  to share with you, the following is drawn from my in-house experience, talking with experts in this field, and associated best practice. 

1. It all starts with asking someone how they are doing in a warm and authentic way – giving them a chance to realise that you are being sincere and friendly.  Build this into your interview structure, as a pop up on your application form, or as a breakout session on your assessment centre day.  Remember though, the last thing anyone needs is to feel rushed but all it really takes (according to Mind) is 10 minutes of clear time.

2. Job searching can feel overwhelming. To counter this, consider adapting your application process to include clearly visible stages with explanations of what is involved in each. For example, with the application form break it into simple sections that are easy to complete and can be see building up into a whole person profile. 

3. Perhaps more than most experiences, a positive mindset is really important in recruitment and is most difficult to maintain in the face of rejection. Many chatbots can now provide tailored, personal feedback to candidates in an instant. We have a team who can help you understand the latest HR AI tech options. 

4. Provide tangible support with materials that help candidates manage their stress responses to letdowns or anxiety-provoking situations. These could be in the form of tips on stress management, support in preparation for each stage, examples of what good looks like. 

5.  “I’m worthless because I don’t have the right skills for this job,” or, “This job sounds tough, I don’t think I can do it, even though I have the skills.”  These could be some of the negative self talk that your candidates are experiencing. You could share stories of how people with similar self doubts have gone on to succeed. Consider holding online chats or digital mentoring to make sure that this doesn't stop top talent coming to you. 

The words “anxiety disorder” and “depression” are only blanket terms covering the myriad of unique symptoms people have. People battle these illnesses in different ways depending on the situations they find ourselves in, yet I haven’t come across any articles addressing the experiences people with anxiety and depression have while in the recruitment process. I think it’s long past time to change that. How do you stay positive while job hunting? What tips or tricks do you have to help other people with anxiety and depression feel more confident during the process?

Key stats:

  • 8% of 20- and 21-year-olds experienced distress in 2008, compared to 14.4 percent in 2017—a 78% relative increase.
  • 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
  • Teen suicide rate has tripled amongst girls ages 12 to 14 and increased by 50% among girls ages 15 to 19.

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