Covid takes its toll on young people’s mental health - Sandy Begbie

One of the many side effects of this pandemic has been its impact on mental health.

Experts were warning that we were in the midst of a mental health crisis long before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Whatever challenges we faced back then pale in comparison to the ones we face now.

Though the pandemic has affected everybody’s mental health in one way or another, it has taken a particularly large toll on young people. Recent research by the Prince’s Trust found that half of 16 to 25-year-olds say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic, with 56 per cent saying they always or often feel anxious.

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For young professionals working in financial and professional services, these are not just statistics. Remote working has left many feeling isolated, deprived of the social benefits of office culture, and missing the comfort of friends and family after a difficult day. Recent reports have also pointed to younger colleagues working longer hours and finding it difficult to switch off in the evening. These are all worrying trends.

As the industry body for financial services in Scotland, Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) takes this issue very seriously. We firmly believe the best way to attract and retain talented young people to the sector is by creating an inclusive, welcoming environment that is responsive to the challenges they face.

At an individual level, SFE’s member firms are taking action. However, a crisis of this scale requires a collective response too, and SFE is committed to playing a leading role. Mental health has been a key consideration in the development of our soon-to-published Financial Services Strategy, and includes plans to support flexible and hybrid working within the sector, as well as proposals to offer greater support to vulnerable customers.

But SFE also has a specific tool at its disposal to offer a more unique insight on this issue: the SFE Young Professionals network. The network was set up five years ago to connect, inspire and support people in the early stages of their career and is now 600 strong. They have become a genuine asset to our wider organisation; most notably for their thought leadership and networking events, while also raising awareness about the issues affecting young people.

Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week and I’m delighted to support the SFE Young Professionals campaign that includes a series of events to connect and support members. Our first-ever survey of young professionals’ mental health is also being launched today in association with the SAMH and See Me charities. This will help develop a granular understanding of how the pandemic is affecting mental wellbeing and inform the SFE Young Professionals’ strategy. SFE member firms will also be given the results, which we hope will give firms new insights on how to tackle this important issue.

As a trustee of the Place2Be charity, which provides school-based mental health support, I fully appreciate just how hard the past year has been for young people and their families. This is a societal issue and one that our industry and others need to rise up to with compassion and action.

Sandy Begbie CBE is chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise

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