The Lost Boys

hesdsJust off Dame Street there just happens to be two Starbucks practically next to each other. The venue was chosen mainly because it’s the cheapest venue to host a chat about mental health and youth unemployment.

Due to the economic downturn, the problem has got increasingly worse, which is a pity, as my interviewee Stephen with his floppy boy-band hairstyle and retro rocker jeans had big plans.

“I’d love to move to America to San Diego and get any sort of job, but that’s a long way off,” says Stephen as he takes a seat next to me. “Being unemployed could play a part in my mental state sometimes, but at the moment it isn’t too bad. If I have to sit in all day, every day, cabin fever will take over and I’ll be mentally derailed.”

As he peers over his shoulder, he turns back to explain how most days he wouldn’t even get dressed, not seeing the point since he is unemployed.
Eventually, the stresses of being without a job may impair Stephen at some point. Without any consistent structure or daily chores, the mind can drift into dark places. “I will get annoyed,” he says, “I’ll go off the tracks and probably go crazy to some extent, but that’s what unemployment does to you.”

According to the CSO (Central Statistics Office) Ireland’s youth unemployment rate is stuck at 17.5% with a total of 437,300 signing on.

Staying Headstrong

At a recent meeting with Headstrong – Ireland’s national centre for youth mental health – Communication Director Micheline Egan gave me extensive insight into the minds of young people without work.

“Young unemployed people are feeling angry and frustrated with the world they’re facing. They see the impact of unemployment, uncertainty, and financial debt, both on their families and peers and often feel powerless,” says Egan, citing a foreword written by her boss, Tony Bates, in the My World Survey: National Study of Youth Mental Health conducted by her organisation and UCD.

As the report suggests, young people are painfully at odds with what we would wish for them. Unemployment can lead to suicide, young people engaging in high-risk behaviour, and young people getting frustrated because their dreams were taken away from them.

Dave Markham, 22, a recent college graduate can certainly relate to this aspect of stolen dreams. Out of work for more than a year, he has seen most of his immediate dreams, like getting a job, float away.

“It’s been a bit of a tough time in my life personally and not working and being made to wait is just so frustrating,” says Dave. “Just sometimes it seems like there’s no prospects and no point,” he says. The future for Dave looks slightly better; since this interview he has obtained a part-time position that may lead to full-time work.

Back in Starbucks, the conversation with Stephen moves from life without work to the glum experience of the dole office.

“I keep looking for jobs; keep doing what I am doing. I’m trying to enjoy life as much as I can even though I haven’t got a job,” he concludes.

By Liam Cahill