While it is a common aspect to speculate on the prevalent unemployment rates in Zimbabwe, little to no discussion is done when it comes to the mental health of the unemployed graduates. A lot has been written on failure to get employment as compared to how graduates cope while in that phase, that is, the morale that stays with them. This article seeks to discuss the mental health challenges faced by graduates with university degrees yet unable to attain employment owing to an economy whose resources are constrained.
Research indicates that the youths make up the largest fraction of the unemployed masses. Failure to attain employment at the start of a career may be detrimental in that one may begin to lose the knowledge acquired as well as fail to perfect skills recently obtained. Those fortunate enough to gain employment soon after graduation begin to excel in terms of skill and general survival. In light of this, the gap between these graduates is created and continues to widen. Such a scenario has future repercussions particularly for the graduate who gets employed at an older age. It creates potential for lower salaries and general professional chances. As such, there is need for graduates not yet gainfully employed to be equipped with psychological skills to handle such facts in order to avoid other related health failures like depression, anxiety and suicide ideation in some cases.
In addition to age, the length of the time after graduating while one still fails to attain employment is among the major reasons for negative mental health among this group of qualified professionals. Optimism naturally dies down as the time passes and there are no positive prospects in sight. Generally, this affects the health of an individual. While this may not be necessarily physical, mentally one can be negatively impacted. It is for this reason that it is essential to come up with psychological solutions that will assist in keeping unemployed graduates motivated and optimistic. This is particularly essential considering that the period of unemployment indicated on one’s curriculum vitae indicates years of no productivity which further diminishes their chances of being employed by potential companies.
The above mentioned factors have health implications if not appropriately handled. The deterioration in health can be noted through, isolation, abnormal drinking habits and in some cases, drug abuse. These are patterns most common among the youth nowadays. These are pointers to distress and mental health problems which can be said to be the root causes of increases in suicide and in some cases violent behaviour among the unemployed in comparison to the employed youths. Some of these problems are unfortunately evident in older ages than during stages of youth. It is therefore essential for psychologists to make accessible coping ways for individuals who find themselves in such predicaments.
The country’s economy is also a factor that continues to negatively contribute to the mental health problems of graduates. A struggling economy often means that graduates are highly likely to find themselves in jobs they have no business doing in order to make ends meet. This can affect one’s self-confidence as time goes by. Negative personalities that develop overtime are an indication that unemployment of qualified youths are not only faced with temporary effects but rather with long-term effects that largely contribute to their personalities even in their adult ages. The country can therefore be plagued with a workforce that is demoralised and lacks resilience. This does not benefit the economy in any way. Coping mechanisms are therefore of great need in order to curb the increase of workforce that lacks drive and vision that is necessary to turn around the economy into a competent one.
One of the most essential psychological strategies that university students need to be equipped with during their years of study is optimism moderation. This speaks to positive expectations of the future such that even when one is faced with difficult situations, they do not crumble, instead, they are able to rise above their challenges and come up with a positive solution. This kind of expectancy has the ability to influence achievement of positive results which increases tenacity among graduates seeking employment. This can be a highly effective coping mechanism if mainstreamed into the learning processes of upcoming graduates.
The reason behind young graduates being more prone to stress related health problems is that, it is a life changing period for most especially in terms of their careers. In Zimbabwe, like most African countries, it is a time whereby families begin to have expectations from the graduate. Black tax begins to openly take place, that is, the family begins to exhibit signs that it is time for the graduate to begin to give back to the family for taking them through school right up to graduation level. In some cases, the graduate may personally feel it is now their responsibility to take up more financial duties within the family.
While it is plausible that tertiary colleges have made an attempt to equip students with entrepreneurial skills, a gap still remains. The entrepreneurship module has been incorporated into studies as a core module in an effort to empower graduates in the dry economy. However, this remains problematic in that there still is lack of funding to give the students a head start should they find themselves unemployed. This also contributes to their psychological related challenges.
In light of factors that have been discussed above, it is evident that demographic issues among unemployed graduates have a notable bearing on their mental health. The need for psychological interventions cannot be stressed enough. These are some of the underlying issues that have caused an increase in educated people exhibiting behaviour that is not often associated with their levels of understanding. These are issues of violence, suicide, drug abuse and self-harm only to mention just a few. In order to produce professionals that are equipped beyond their professional capacities, it is essential for colleges and universities to invest in mainstreaming programs that equip upcoming graduates with mental skills to survive graduating in a resource strained economy. This may be the beginning of the much needed economic turnaround in Zimbabwe as the workforce that is highly motivated as well as driven.