New research from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education suggests a link between being on a zero hour contract and having poor mental health.
Researchers analysed data on more than 7,700 people living in England who were born in 1989-90 and found that twenty-five-year-olds who were on zero hour contracts or unemployed, were at greater risk of reporting systems associated with mental health illnesses.
Yet it's not really surprising that those on zero hour contracts have a greater risk of having mental health problems. The stress that comes with such contracts is apparent, not knowing how much money you'll be bringing home means that you can never be certain that you'll have enough money to pay your rent, your bills, or buy food. What if you get no hours at all that week? These fundamental stresses can create anxiety on an everyday basis and if this is your life for a long period of time, it could lead to you experiencing depressive, or even suicidal thoughts.
Obviously, these findings do not mean that everyone on a zero hour contract will have some kind of mental health problem, it's only a correlation that has been discovered. However, it highlights a fundamental problem in our society today, which should not be ignored. Zero hour contracts are not a healthy job option, but for many, they are the only option.
Taking responsibility for our Mental Health as a society
As a society, we need to do what we can to lessen the number of zero hour contracts out there and instead provide more jobs with set hours, thereby providing reliable steady forms of income.
Note I have not suggested the complete elimination of zero hour contracts, as for some (for example students) these can be beneficial (allowing them to work flexible works around their university work). It is the sheer scale of zero hour contracts out there which is concerning, as it provides few options for those desperate to find work.
As Craig Thorley, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has said:
“Efforts to improve the UK’s mental health must recognise the important relationship between health and work. More people than ever are working on zero-hours contracts in the UK, and this new data shows this to be contributing to poorer mental health among younger workers.
“Government and employers must work together to promote better quality jobs which enhance, rather than damage, mental health and wellbeing. Without this, we risk seeing increased demand for mental health services, reduced productivity, and more young people moving on to out-of-work sickness benefits.”
How to look after your Mental Health
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If you're on a zero hour contract or just generally want some advice on how to look after your Mental Health, here are a few tips:
- Talk about how you're feeling. Yes, it's a hard thing to do, but even if it's just opening to your best friend for five minutes, it's better than letting your thoughts and stresses pile up on top of you. That will just make things harder in the lone run and then you'll be trying to cope on your own.
- Eat healthily. Again, everyone has their own views of a healthy diet, but we all know that bingeing on takeaways every day does not make us feel good. Do what you can to eat better, even just picking up an apple to snack on is a step in the right direction.
- Get some exercise. Now I'm not saying that I expect to go to the gym every day or run the next local marathon (although if you're up for it, go for it,) but even going for a walk around the block will help you clear your head and feel better in the long run.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. It's so hard to keep in touch with everyone all the time what with work and life throwing it's stresses at you, but it's important to try. Locking yourself away in your room or home will not help you. It's your friends and family who support you and it's something they will want to do if they know you need help. You just need to tell them.
- Keep a journal. Writing things down is a good way of letting stress out instead of carrying it around with you all the time. It doesn't have to be a traditional journal. You can write what you want to, whether it's how you are feeling in that given moment or a list of things you need or want to do, it all helps.
- Sleep. Now this a difficult one for many people with poor mental health, but staying up all night will just make you feel worse and in the long run could potentially cause further damage to your mental health. Try to set a time to go to bed. Make your bed a place of sleep and rest, not somewhere you chill out and watch Netflix. Put away your laptop, phone, iPad, whatever electronics you have, they will only distract you.
For more advice on looking after your mental health, check out the following articles:
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