“Who is going to employ me?” This was a common question that we heard from a number of men who are currently out of work. These men, aged 45 to 60, had demonstrable experience, had been the breadwinners for their families and in some cases had occupied managerial positions. Unsurprisingly, such uncertainty places a strain on men, leading to sleepless nights, anxiety, low confidence and overall deterioration in their mental health and resilience. Men now find themselves questioning whether they have worked their last day in paid employment.
Whilst much media attention focuses on the younger generation, attempting to transition from education and training into employment, the notion of a ‘lost generation’ has some resonance with their older counterparts.
During the last three months, The Young Foundation has worked with Mind, the national mental health charity, to help shape the Local Mind resilience programme. This is a programme of work to build the resilience of individuals within economically disadvantaged communities, in order to minimise the risk of mental health problems. The programme of work is funded by the People’s Health Trust. Five of the nine projects will target men who were aged 45 to 60 and are out of work.
As part of this work we have been talking to men about their experiences in trying to find work and how the state of unemployment affects their life and in particular mental health. Our report, ‘Who is going to employ me?’ shares the stories and experiences of men in Darlington, Hackney, Merthyr Tydfil, Newham and York. The information we gathered has helped to shape the design of the resilience interventions which will be delivered by local Minds during the next year. Some examples of the stories we heard can be found in the pen portraits we published earlier this week.
Unsurprisingly, the tough economic climate is difficult to negotiate. During one focus group, one man stated: “You can hear the depression in the room”. Being out of work pinches on men’s sense of self-worth, and is stigmatising. This, coupled with the loss of peers and a smaller social network, chisels at the inner resources that help people cope with tough times.
We heard the messages that people tell themselves which influence what they do at critical points: when they decide to re-skill, to take up a volunteering opportunity, to sign up to an I.T course, to apply for a job following yet another rejection. One man, at the age of 58, recounted how he wakes up in the morning and asks himself whether he should apply for a new job at his age. He feels discouraged from the job search before he begins.
A resilience based intervention seeks to surface some of the ways people think about and interpret events and give them the skills to develop more flexible thinking styles. This approach, coupled with opportunities to share and develop new skills and meet new people, will form the basis of the projects developed in the five of the nine areas.
The men we met wanted support, to not only negotiate and access training and new skills, but also to equip them with the skills to strengthen their mental wellbeing. We now know that resilient behaviours can be taught. Enhanced coping strategies, improved social networks, and participation in activities that boost wellbeing are the three pillars that underpin the resilience intervention. The aspiration is that the coping skills and stronger social networks will strengthen confidence and help men take up new opportunities within their communities. Hopefully, the skills acquired will make the question “Who is going to employ me?” a little less rhetorical.