Unemployed Young Adults Are Three Times More Likely To Struggle With Depression


Unemployment can take a toll on a young person’s psyche, laying the foundation for what can eventually grow into depression, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study said.

Researchers from the federal agency and a host of state health departments compiled data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and conducted a survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25. Inquiries explored various aspects of their life, including employment while controlling for race/ethnicity, gender, education, and marital status.

Their findings determined that 12 percent of people within that age bracket were depressed. For those without jobs, their risk of depression more than tripled. The research team, a pair of public health experts from Emory University in Atlanta, also found that unemployed people who had disabilities were five times as likely to be depressed as their counterparts.

“The high rate of unemployment among emerging adults (aged 18 to 25 years) is a public health concern,” researchers wrote in the report. “The relationship between unemployment and depression is significant among emerging adults. With high rates of unemployment for this age group, this population may benefit from employment- and mental-health–focused interventions.”


This new research highlights what could the likely consequence of failing to address an issue that has plagued the youngest cohort of Americans eligible for employment since the turn of the century. Even with the national unemployment rate at less than six percent, young people between the ages of 18 and 25 still lag behind their older and more experienced counterparts. The unemployment rate among that age group currently stands at more than 12 percent, triple than that of those between the ages of 35 and 54.

While the CDC study, like previous research, couldn’t determine if depression causes unemployment or vice versa, public experts warn that failing to address the mental stress of joblessness often prevents young people from establishing potentially lucrative careers. Without stable employment, young people become more vulnerable to psychological disorders. Youth without jobs also stand a greater chance of engaging in alcohol, drugs, and other behaviors that pose a health risk due in part to the feelings of failure and loathing that overcome them. These negative thoughts manifest into isolation from family and friends. Even if the depressed gain employment, they may lose their job within a year because of their condition.

An unstable employment situation amid poverty can take a toll on both young people and those around them. A National Institutes of Health study in 2012 determined that youth without jobs have a greater chance of committing suicide and inflicting violence on others, often as a result of stress or in the commission of a crime. Experts speculate that poor employment prospects may have driven James Holmes to fatally shoot 12 people and injure dozens more in Denver movie theater in 2012.

A 2011 report by the International Labor Organization predicted that in some pockets of the United States, the fallout from the recent economic recession could last for several years, even as the economy improves. Lawmakers and advocates have seen this situation unfold in the nation’s urban centers among adolescents, a demographic younger than the group highlighted in the study but one that can benefit from early employment opportunities nonetheless.

Connecting troubled populations with jobs and other resources could provide stability that paves the way for effective mental health treatment, as seen in the case of returning citizens who benefit from community reentry programs after being released from prison.


Many cities have already put this theory into action. In Chicago, where people younger than 25 accounted for half of homicide victims in 2010, a summer youth employment program reduced violence in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, even after the program ended. A study conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and University of Pennsylvania, found that violent crime arrest among young people fell by more than 40 percent weeks after the launch of the program.

Amid a string of youth homicides at the beginning of the year, officials in Washington, D.C. hope that a recent expansion of the city’s marque youth employment program to provide year-round professional development services to young people between the ages of 18 to 24 can give young adults some sense of self-worth, eventually reducing neighborhood violence. “That’s one of the biggest pieces of the youth crime issue. Young people who feel like they don’t have any good opportunities may see crime as the only option they have in getting out,” Gerren Price, deputy director for youth workforce development at the D.C. Department of Youth Employment Services, told ThinkProgress.

Addressing the employment and mental health problem could pose many benefits for young people. More than 10 percent of adolescents develop a depressive order before the age of 18 including depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder. When left untreated, depression counts among the leading causes of disability among people between the ages of 14 and 55, more the reason to address the factors that exacerbate it, including lack of employment.

Researchers, however, warn that the results don’t necessarily apply to all Americans in the 18 to 25 age group. The data came from 12 states and they didn’t interview institutionalized people, or those who only had a wireless phone, ultimately limiting the study’s generalizability.