According to World Health Organization data, four of the six leading causes of disability are due to neuropsychiatric disorders (depression, alcohol abuse, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). Depression itself is present in more than 12% of the years of disability experienced globally. These problems have been found to be particularly relevant in well developed countries because of the established connection between mental disorders and levels of distress in the modern world. This is related to an increase in the number of young people with mental health problems observed in the EU in recent decades.

The LIKE project examines precisely this growing proportion of young people between 15 and 29 years of age, with mental health problems, as well as the inability of conventional employment methods to address the specific needs of this target group. The project aims to enhance the social inclusion and employment of the target group by exploring the status of young people by developing an innovative methodology that meets their needs and engages the entire community of relatives, employers, and institutions in the process.

The Project ‘L.I.K.E. – Life Investment is the Key to Employment’ is implemented by a consortium Association ‘Sustainability of Progressive and Open Communication’  and is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the European Economic Area(EEA) and Youth Employment Fund.

The field survey was conducted with a questionnaire that included a demographic section and specific questions related to lifestyle, employment status, psychological attitudes, family relationships, environment, sources of information, health, and more.


The results of the survey are grouped into several categories as follows:

Gender, Age, Education, Residence, Ethnicity.

The respondents are 52.8% women and 47.2% men, which fully met the requirements for representativeness of the study. The highest percentage of respondents in the age group 25-29 years (55.9%), which corresponds to the predetermined focus of the survey.

36.8% are young people in the age group of 20-24 years, and between 15 and 19 years are 7.3%.

The highest percentages are those with secondary education – 47.8%. They were followed by the young people with higher education – 29.5%, with primary education – 17.1% and with initial education – 4%. 1.7% have no education. The biggest part of the target group has completed secondary education as a relatively high proportion – about half of those surveyed, and about 1/3 are university graduates. For the most part, unemployed young people who are not engaged in training are educated and are still outside the labor market.

The majority of the youth surveyed are from the capital or from a regional city – 29.1% and 29.2% respectively. Living in a village – 22 %. From another city are 19.7% (or 1/5 of the participants). From big cities and Sofia – nearly 60 % of the respondents were involved, while in the smaller cities and villages – about 40%.

69% of the surveyed youth identify themselves as Bulgarians. 20.2% as Roma, and 6.7% – Turkish. 2.8% refused to indicate their ethnic origin and 0.8% did not indicate a specific answer.

Employment, economic status

With the highest proportion of those surveyed, 33.5% – or about 1/3 – have never worked before. A similar percentage – 31.7% – are young people with a work experience between 1 and 5 years. By 1 year they were 22.5% and over 5 years – 12.4%. The largest part of the surveyed group, has difficulty in starting their working careers and realization. Similar part are the people who have managed to stay in the labor market for up to 5 years. It is important to note that the target group is dominated by young people who have never worked, followed by those with a minimum employment period of up to 1 year. This is an indicator of serious startup barriers, respectively finding and retaining a job among the target group. The identification of these problematic barriers remains to be found and analyzed in this study.

In terms of economic status, it is striking that the majority of respondents are those who neither study nor work (35%) but have little or no money, or say that their finances are  “neither less nor much” – a total of about 70%. About a quarter say they have absolutely no money (26%) and only 4% say they have a lot.

Psychological Characteristics

On the question of the nature of personal problems, the highest percentage (37.5%) points “insecurity”. It is noteworthy that individuals who indicated some type of psychiatric disorder – depression and anxiety accounted for a significant proportion of those studied – about 30% for each of these disorders. If eating disorders and addictions are added, a significant proportion of mental health problems will emerge, which also explains the leading feeling of insecurity as a cause of personal problems.


Half of the respondents – 49%, of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 live with their parents.

The lack of sufficient financial resources to meet their daily needs forces young people to delay parental separation. As other studies show, poverty in children and young people is directly dependent on parental poverty – that is, so-called. ‘Intergenerational poverty’ or ‘intergenerational poverty inheritance’. The causes of poverty are related to the lack of employment and income from parents’ work, lack of education or illness.

In order to interrupt this accumulation of inequalities between the generations, support is needed in fulfilling the parental function, providing social and family benefits, using social services, promoting employment and professional realization.

The results of the survey also show that 23% of the people who neither work, nor study live with someone without marriage. 11% live alone, 12% are married and 5% live with friends.

About 1/5 of the respondents take care of an ill or addicted family member. Certainly, this commitment further complicates their realization in the labor market.

Interests, sources of information, social contacts, trust

A high proportion of respondents say that “work” is the area of most interest to them. Second are friends (65,2) and family (61,7) with almost equal shares – over 60%.

Considering that there may be several answers to this question, we are uniting around a “comfortable” area for young people – family, friends, social networks (56,1), limited mainly to communications and striving to quickly satisfy their material demands – 79.4% gave the item “work” . Other elements of “education” (35.6) and “training” (48.4) complete this analysis. Young people prefer training to be faster, easily accessible, and less engaging in following education. The desire for education and training is high – about 40% on average, both indicators, which give us reason to believe that young people’s awareness of a better life, including paid work, is related to improving their skills.

A high percentage – more than 55% social networks engagement is expected as young people communicate, read news, share information in social media.

The respondents from Sofia and Sofia districts are almost equal in number and therefore the data show some equality. In the capital it is more likely to be emphasized on social media and education while in the district – family and friends are almost equally involved in the demand to quickly meet the material needs through work.

Not many seek social networking expansion (28.8%). This may either mean that this group consists of incarcerated and self-sufficient people, or that they do not feel isolated from the environment.

With the highest percentage, 72.6% indicate friends as a trusted source. By 67.4% or 2/3 of the respondents choose social networks. Not surprisingly, the opinions of friends and peers are of particular importance to this age group. About half of the respondents identified the electronic media as one of the preferred channels of information 56%, and we could assume that this is characteristic of this age group as a whole. Again, with nearly half of the answers chosen – 53.7% prefer the family as a source of information.

In terms of trust, the largest share is occupied by the family (66.8%), followed by friends (57.1%), and psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors respectively, in third and fourth place in this ranking (26%, 24%). Lastly, the respondents cited the court and the prosecutor’s office (5.4%) in confidence. The family is also in the first place in terms of the expected assistance for the realization of life goals (more than 2/3 of the respondents or 69,2%)

Future vision, expectations and values

More than 2/3 of the respondents (68.9%) imagine life after 5 years as work-based, but only 22.3% associate it with learning. Only 5% think they will study in 5 years. With age, the perception of work commitment at the expense of learning increases. This can be interpreted as a gradual awareness of the need for employment and refusal to continue education.

Young people value receiving support in general – on average, more than half have answered various questions about such support, placing family first as the mainstay. Positive sentiment prevails, though not with the expected ratio of skeptics and pessimists: the importance of avoiding negative people is estimated by only 57%, while 43% do not consider it important.

In the value attitudes prevailing for this group of young people is the self-assertive model and, in the second place, the evaluation by others.

The highest percentage, almost ¾ of young people (73.1%), seek support for finding work, which means that work and financial sustainability (68.3%) are among the first in the ranking of their values. On the other hand, the attainment of these values involves the expectation of outside help, without the need for a change in their own personality and competence. Only about 26-28% see the need for personal development – training, internships, coping with mental problems.

Health, life satisfaction

More than half of the respondents were satisfied with their health status, 35% were somewhat satisfied and only 15% indicated that they were not satisfied with their health status. This may lead to the conclusion that not participating in any form of employment or training is not due to health problems. On the other hand, the answers to the question about the need for medical assistance in order to lead a normal life show that 34% have a partial or complete need for medical assistance to lead a normal life. The remaining 65% said they did not need one, ie that health was not the reason for their exclusion from social life and employment. 67.8% answered negatively to the question “Were you restricted (seriously or not so seriously) in your usual activity due to a long-term health problem?”, 15% answered positively, ie. these responses correspond with the subjective health assessment data. It is common for more respondents to answer the question with a “no,” even as expected at a higher percentage. It is of interest that 1/6 of the respondents present themselves as people restricted in their normal activity by a long-term health problem. Together with those who cannot identify – 32% of the respondents. It is possible that a serious health problem is not observed, and that the young people assess their discomfort and difficulty as a long-term problem. Another hypothesis is that the young person is more educated, inquisitive and competent in health issues and rated higher for poor health. These people also raise concerns about their own health. The slight discrepancy in the subjective assessment of health and the objective situation can also be interpreted as a cultural feature of common “discontent with life”, which reflects on the answers received.

In terms of life satisfaction in the last month, the respondents most often – 46.8% choose the answer “somewhat satisfied”. Followed by the choice of answers “I am not satisfied” 28.6% and “I am satisfied” – 24.7%. We tend to attribute the prevalence of the chosen average level of life satisfaction to the overall social acceptability of this answer, as well as to the cultural psychological attitude to respond evasively to one’s own condition and to give conditional satisfaction when answering a relevant question. Surprisingly, a relatively high percentage – close to ¼ of young unemployed people surveyed, who say they have been satisfied with their lives over the past month. We assume that to some extent this percentage of young people have accepted or are accustomed to the limitations and the lack of self-actualization to a significant degree. Other possible hypothesis is that those who responded (satisfied with life in the last month) are well socially insured by their parents and, despite their lack of employment, they can afford a good quality of life not only with material security but with good social care.

Conclusion and Discussion of the Obtained Results

The results of the questionnaire outline a specific profile of the target group, which is in line with the initially set parameters of the project, but also show specific features that require additional analysis. It concerns a group of young people aged 15-29, almost equally divided by gender, mainly with secondary school education, predominantly big city residents, predominantly of Bulgarian ethnic origin. In socio-economic terms at the time of the survey, all were unemployed (according to the study design), but with different work experience in the past.

The analysis of the data shows that for the social maladaptation observed in this group, the main reason is the lack of motivation for active life, integration into the social environment and personal development. This lack of motivation is caused by complex reasons, first of all, it outlines the characteristic psychological profile of a young man, without ambition, reconciled with the economic state in which he is, but with intentions for activity at some distance from the present time. Most of these young people live with their parents, which makes an impact on their socialization. Their world is more or less closed, confined in the family and close environment of peers (probably in the same situation as themselves). Their horizons of dreams and interests are relatively limited. The sources of information about them do not extend beyond the immediate environment in which they live, and hence limit their interests and intentions for the future.

The reasons for this condition are complex, but a large part of them is due to some psychological distress from the range of anxiety disorders and moderate depressive states. It is difficult to say whether these disorders are the cause or effect of these young people’s lifestyles. Since the design of the study included the presence of mental disorder mainly in minority groups, particular attention should be given to this causal link. Assuming a priori that the target group consists of individuals with some diagnosed mental disorder, then the results and their interpretation will be different from what is outlined in this study. Data from a previous Association SPOC (Sustainability of Progressive and Open Communication) survey regarding the employment status of people with a diagnosed mental disorder have shown that the main barriers to their employment are related to the treatment of employers, society and even the family. In the present study, no data on stigmatization and auto stigmatizing processes are found. This gives reason to think that the mental disorders from the anxiety and depression spectrum are more of a secondary consequence of the social failure of these individuals, which creates a vicious circle by reinforcing that failure and reducing their chances of change. This is confirmed by the fact that every tenth respondent who has not worked so far has eating problems. Such problems are most common in those who have not worked between 1 and 5 years -17%. For those without work, up to 1 year is 13% and over 5 years – 15%, which suggests that the stress associated with unemployment increases the eating disorders of young people.

Increasing the unemployment period increases the likelihood of substance or alcohol abuse. If the unemployed young people under 1 year of age are one in ten users, those who have been unemployed for between one and five years or more than five years are already two in ten.

The problem of unemployment is offset by high confidence in the family and friendship circle, but over time, the negative phenomena of this condition erode that equilibrium. The data shows that for unemployed people up to one year the trust in the family is high – 73%, but for those who have been unemployed for more than five years, it declines by half – 34%. Apparently, long-term youth unemployment is critical to family confidence in addressing personal emotional problems.

Lack of work, respectively, social environment leads to virtual reality closure. Every tenth of the young people who neither study nor work, with an unemployment period of up to one year, recognizes their dependence on the Internet and social networks as a personal problem.

For unemployed people between one and five years of age, this dependency has doubled and is now recognized by 23% of respondents. For those who have not worked or have not worked for more than five years, the percentage is almost the same – 13% and 15%.

The existence of a vicious circle is also observed with regard to the job search initiative, which is inversely proportional to the time spent idle. With the increase in the period of unemployment, the disinterest towards starting a job increases. There is the lowest interest in starting work for young people who have not worked under one year – 12%.

The unemployment rate for one to five years is 17% and for those who have not worked for more than five years it is 27%. It is significant that those who have never worked have the lowest interest in starting a career – 28% of them are not interested in starting a job.

These data support the hypothesis of passivity in these young people, which creates a psychological barrier to active job search.

In terms of trust in friends, it increases with increasing unemployment. This can again be interpreted as a secondary closure in a narrow social circle and an avoidance of social competition.

Alongside this, there is the phenomenon of getting used to social status, which is illustrated through the connection of anxiety and a period of unemployment. For the unemployed up to one year, anxiety is highest – 38%, for those without work for 1 to 5 years it is 28% and for the unemployed over 5 years it is 25%. For comparison, those who have not worked – 23% are anxious.

One in five young people surveyed who has never worked or been unemployed for up to a year has personal fear related problems. Among unemployed people between one and five years old, fears are 22%, and those over 5 years, fears drop to 5%.

In this context is also the issue of the health status of the target group. More than two-thirds of respondents did not have health problems and did not need medical attention. It is confirmed that if there is a mental disorder or some other health problem, then it is not the reason for the social status of most of the persons in the group.

The survey data does not show any particular differences in terms of ethnic origin; it cannot be assumed that there is any discrimination on this mark.

An important characteristic of this group of young people is their self-centeredness and passivity in the expectation of being led out of the state of lethargy in which they find themselves in. The value system of these people spreads, to a large extent, to the satisfaction of their own needs and aspirations, which alone are not really ambitious.

The lack of life ambition is also confirmed by a comparison of data obtained from the answers to the questions related to financial situation and life satisfaction. It is noteworthy that young people who define themselves as having less or no money are, in 62-64% of cases, somewhat satisfied with life. The vast majority (88.1%) of young people who are satisfied with their lives do not, by their estimation, have “a lot of money”. Almost all (97.6%) of those who are somewhat satisfied with their lives – also. These results suggest a relatively high level of idealism but, on the other hand, low motivation for finding a job.

In conclusion, the problems of young people that emerge from this study are mainly on psychological and cultural aspect. Socio-economic factors and health status are rather secondary phenomena, although their interaction in the course of one’s career is essential. This raises the question of interventions that should be focused mainly on the upbringing and education of these young people, as well as influence on the family environment, which, although supportive, prove incapable of overcoming the basic passivity and lack of life motivation of these people. Creating a motivating social environment will be a key factor in overcoming and breaking the vicious circles created in the majority of young people surveyed. In this sense, the aims set by the projects and the interventions envisaged are completely in line with the findings of the research phase and could be expected to be adequate and effective.