Depression And Anxiety Are Skyrocketing In Young Adults Amid Pandemic

September 26, 2020

A new study suggests that anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are rising sharply in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that younger adults are particularly vulnerable to these increases.

Researchers analyzed information from more than 5,400 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, who completed an online survey in late June.

The study found that the percentage of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety increased about three times and the percentage reporting symptoms of depression increased about four times compared to the levels seen in surveys conducted at the same time in 2019.

Overall, about 41 percent of participants in the 2020 survey reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition; 31 percent experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression, 13 percent began or increased substance use (including alcohol or marijuana) to cope with pandemic-related wtih stress, and nearly 11 percent reported that they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days .

The number of suicides is particularly alarming among adults aged 18 to 24 years. Of this group, about 63% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, 25% reported starting or increasing substance use, and 25% reported seriously considering suicide in the past 30 days. For comaprision, in a national survey conducted in 2018, about 14% of young people reported episodes of major depression and 11% reported serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.

The new findings “highlight the widespread impact of the epidemic and the need to prevent and treat these conditions,” the authors write in their study, published Thursday (Aug. 13) in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study could not determine the reasons for the rise in mental health, but factors related to the epidemic, such as social isolation, school and college closures, unemployment and other financial concerns, as well as the threat of the disease itself, may play a role, the authors said. Future research will be needed to identify specific drivers of the poor mental health pandemic.

Why young adults seem to be particularly affected by the pandemic is not known. After all, the study found that young people are less likely to experience serious illness from COVID-19 compared with older adults. But older adults in the study had the lowest incidence of mental health symptoms. Of those 65 and older, 8 percent reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, 3 percent reported starting or increasing substance use, and 2 percent reported seriously considering suicide in the past 30 days.

One idea, according to the New York Times, is that people’s ability to accept uncertainty may be related to their mental health reactions.” “There are so many questions now, especially for young people, about relative risk, the duration of a pandemic and what their future will look like,” lead study author Mark Czeisler, a psychology researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told the Times. Experiencing a longer life may help older people better tolerate these uncertain times.

The authors say there is an urgent need to address the consequences of the proliferation of mental health conditions, such as through increased access to resources for diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions and expanded use of telemedicine.