College graduates in their early professional careers report significant mental health issues and view their jobs as a contributing factor, according to findings from a new survey released by the Mary Christie Institute (MCI) in partnership with NACE, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Healthy Minds Network.
According to The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young Professionals, 51% of young professionals report having needed help for emotional or mental health problems in the past year. Among these respondents, 45% believe their work environment has taken a negative toll on their mental health.
The issues are persistent; 53% of respondents are experiencing burnout—defined as physical and emotional exhaustion related to one’s work—at least once a week.
Race and gender differences also surface here. In particular, women reported worse mental health overall than men. Although Black respondents reported better overall mental health than their white peers (60% vs. 52% say they have good or excellent mental health), they are less likely to feel part of the work community than white respondents (50% vs. 65%) and less likely to say they have colleagues who would support them if struggling (52% vs. 72%). This indicates that employers need to assess workplace culture and practices to ensure that all workers feel they belong in their workplace and are connected to their colleagues.
What are potential solutions to this anxiety, financial stress, and emotional exhaustion young professionals report feeling? These employees suggest a strong willingness to engage with workplace mental health programs. More than 80% would be likely to engage with mental health days at their place of employment if they were offered, and more than two-thirds of respondents said they would be likely to engage with free mental health support groups and resources to help employees find mental healthcare. In addition, nearly 60% of young professionals believe their employers should invest more in mental health support. Ensuring the the existence of comprehensive mental health supports, along with equitable access to resources in the workplace, can help address the mental health challenges young workers report.
Furthermore, almost half (43%) say they would reach out to their supervisors if they had a problem they believed is affecting their job performance. Doing so, they say, yields positive results: More than 90% of those who had spoken to someone at work said the response was supportive. This finding further points to the importance of workplace cultures that are inclusive and ensuring that supervisors are trained in supporting the mental wellness needs of employees.
There are also opportunities for colleges to address mental health and wellbeing for their students who will enter the workforce. When young professionals were asked if they believed their college equipped them with the emotional or behavioral skills needed for the workplace, 39% say it did. In particular, respondents cited peer relationships (57%) and extracurriculars (51%) as influential experiences in this area. However, another 39% of respondents believed their college did not prepare them with the emotional or behavioral skills needed for the workplace, raising questions about how proactive colleges are in including emotional and mental health in their career development and pedagogy. Providing students with opportunities to experience the workplace before they graduate, such as through internships or co-ops, could help ready students.
The survey on which The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young Professionals is based was conducted by Morning Consult from November 1 to 7, 2022, among a sample of 1,005 adults between the ages of 22 and 28 with at least a bachelor’s degree. The survey was conducted online. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. In this sample, 42% identified as male and 55% identified as female. Ten percent were Black, 12% were Asian American, 13% were Hispanic, and 74% were white.