The Weight of Precarity: How Do Changing Experiences of Work, Study and Relationships Affect Young Australians’ Risk of Developing a Mental Illness?

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Jonathan SMITH, Monash University, Australia
Jacqueline LAUGHLAND-BOOŸ, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia
Jenifer MURPHY, The University of Melbourne, Australia
Zlatko SKRBIS, Monash University, Australia
Young jobseekers in post-industrial societies are entering labour markets via insecure employment, whilst also engaging in tertiary study to secure their long-term employability. As a result, precarity and the need for flexibility increasingly features in the lives of both lower and more middle-class youth. Larger numbers of young people are struggling to resolve the conflicting demands of work, education and social/family life. While research shows poor mental health outcomes of unemployed and underemployed youth, the psychological toll of a more generalised precarity is less well understood. To address this, we explored the predictors of psychological distress - a key indicator of mental illness - amongst the first cohort of Australian school-leavers to enter the labour market in the economically volatile years following the Global Financial Crisis. Our analysis pooled comparable survey data from two concurrent youth cohort studies - the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY09) and the Social Futures and Life Pathways (Our Lives) study - with a combined sample of 7,121 young Australians aged 20-22. Being engaged in casual rather than ongoing employment predicted higher odds of psychological distress for respondents who combined this work with university study. Social support, particularly from one’s parents and best friend, but also from neighbours and friends in general, helped to counteract young people’s distress levels. Certain groups of young people, such as including females, those from migrant backgrounds, and those with an alternative sexual orientation, showed higher levels of psychological distress. The results suggest that, without adequate support, the demands of a changing labour market may further compound the risk of mental illness amongst such groups.