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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Young adults’ mental health and labor market exclusion - causes, consequences, and trends

Alternative title: Mental helse blant unge og utestengelse fra arbeidsmarkedet - årsaker, virkninger og trender

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

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2024 - 2028

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The working-age population in Norway is shrinking due to demographic processes. Next to productivity increases and immigration, integrating and retaining young adults in the labor market is considered crucial for sustaining a comprehensive welfare state. However, increasing rates of mental health problems in young persons – especially depression and anxiety – have caused concerns about young adults’ well-being as well as their ability to contribute to the labor force. Potential explanations of the increase in mental health problems among younger adults in recent years point to the widespread use of social media, school pressure, and a more demanding labor market. On the other hand, it has been claimed that the increase in young adults’ reported and diagnosed mental health problems might reflect reduced stigma around mental health problems, better health care provision, and increasing medicalization of conditions that were previously considered “normal”. Against this background, the YoungPsych project examines whether society has become more or less inclusive of young persons with mental health problems and whether young adults with mental health problems today are more (or less) likely to complete education and to be active in the labor force. We will also study whether school pressure, stressful employment, and widespread social media contribute to recent changes in mental health. Not least, we will assess to what extent more openness about mental health problems and changing norms related to help-seeking contribute to observed increases in reported mental health problems. In order to address these issues, the project will make use of a comprehensive collection of Norwegian register data and of large population surveys. Results of this project will help policy makers, academics, and the interested public to better understand recent increases in mental health problems in adolescents and young adults and how they might affect the labor markets in the future.

A high rate of labor force participation is an important foundation of the Norwegian welfare state. At the same time, an increasing share of young adults is not participating in the labor market due to mental health problems. Moreover, the share of young adults seeking help for mental health problems is strongly increasing. Together with a demographic shift towards an older population during the next decades, these developments have stirred concerns regarding future cohorts' ability to participate in the workforce. Work force participation is both important for the welfare state and for an individual’s social and economic integration into society. Against that background, the YoungPsych-project will provide the best to-date knowledge about (i) the relationship between early-life mental health problems, educational attainment and labor market attachment; (ii) the impact of academic pressure and job characteristics on the likelihood of developing mental health problems; (iii) the extent to which a lower threshold for seeking help and a more widespread use of social media can explain the increase in mental health diagnoses. With a highly competent interdisciplinary project team, the project will produce new knowledge that is highly likely to move the field forward. The empirical foundation of the project is a uniquely comprehensive register linkage, linked to population wide survey data from the Armed Forces' selection process, and large register-linked longitudinal population-based surveys. These data sources allow for examining changes during the past two decades and to take into account different aspects of mental health, including self-perceived mental health, help-seeking behavior and doctors’ diagnoses. The strength of the project lies in the combination of exceptionally rich longitudinal data, creative research designs, modern data analysis, and important and timely research questions.

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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon