Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing in young adults amid pandemic

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Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are skyrocketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study suggests.

The study, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that young adults were particularly prone to these increases.

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

Related: 7 ways depression differs in men and women

The percentage of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder increased about threefold and the percentage reporting symptoms of depressive disorder increased about fourfold, compared with levels seen in a survey conducted around the same period in 2019, the study found.

Overall, in the 2020 survey, about 41% of participants reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition; with 31% experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, 13% initiating or increasing use of substances (including alcohol or marijuana) to cope wtih stress tied to the pandemic, and nearly 11% reporting that they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. 

The toll was particularly striking among adults ages 18 to 24. In this group, about 63% reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, 25% reported starting or increasing use of substances, and 25% reported seriously considering suicide in the past 30 days. For comaprision, in a national survey conducted in 2018, about 14% of young adults reported an episode of major depression and 11% reported serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.

The new findings "highlight the broad impact of the pandemic and the need to prevent and treat these conditions," the authors wrote in their study, published Thursday (Aug. 13) in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study could not determine the reason for the rise in mental health conditions, but factors relating to the pandemic, such as social isolation, school and university closures, unemployment and other financial worries, as well as the threat of the disease itself, may play a role, the authors said. Future studies will be needed to determine the specific drivers poor mental health in the pandemic.

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

One idea is that people's ability to accept uncertainty may be tied to their mental health response, according to The New York Times. "Now there are so many questions, especially for young people, about relative risk, duration of the pandemic and what their futures will look like," study lead author Mark Czeisler, a psychology researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told the Times. A longer life experienced may help older adults better tolerate these uncertain times.

There is an urgent need to address the mental health consequences of the pandmeic, such as through increased access to resources for diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions and expanded use of telehealth, the authors said.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Originally published on Live Science.  

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.

  • Valentine Michael Smith
    Soon the Capitalism and such will fall away, and the Volka can rest easy and assured.
  • Wanda
    This is an especially urgent finding for the mental health of the youngsters just starting out in life, having to find a way to succeed in school and then present well in "job interviews" so as to start a career. I have a smart but shy granddaughter in that category -- Heaven help her.

    I would like to point out that the aged 55+ persons with whom I live and mostly interact are gobsmacked by this pandemic: we can't hug and kiss in greeting; we can't understand one another's statements through masks; we are confronted with the need to offer our retirement savings to our adult children so that they can stay afloat during this crisis, instead of leaving them an inheritance.

    The utter lack of federal response to and resolution of this nightmare spotlights the failures of the current administration, sure; but also of the American version of capitalism, which itself must be called into question as a viable model for a SOCIETY. A cohesive society cares for and protects its own. The USA cares for and protects only its richest and most elite. HELLO?????
  • sugathra
    Firstly USA Medical Authorities must understand depression and anxiety cause. There is no effect without a cause. The cause here is the way the consciousness illustrated with Nama-Rupa or Name-Form. The youth and young adults in particular have been in the last 30 to 40 years indulging in making happy their 6 touch-agencies of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & mind. They all did was go looking for external things to satisfy the craving of these 6 agencies and thus will throng restaurants to make tongue happy or cinemas and theatres or places to see to satisfy the eye or go to music to satisfy ear etc.
    With COVID-19 they got lockedin and no opportunity to satisfy the 6 and thus are developing anxiety and depression. Also most youth seem to live paycheck to paycheck and no savings and with jobs lost there is huge anxiety.
    The way forward for all now is to
    Divide the paycheck into 4 parts, use one part to meet your daily and monthly needs, use two parts to develop your potential and if doing some business invest, and the fourth part do save for the rainy days like now. That is what we do here in Sri Lanka, we save some of the salary to meet any future needs.
    To eliminate the negative illustrations in consciousness and to build power of your mind over then 6, start on Mindfulness Meditation initially and then move on to Vipassana Meditation. If you want to know more about the types of meditation and how to do, do let me know and i will be most glad to help anyone, and please note it is all FREE. Buddha the Enlightened One said, "If you know even one thing that will help others, then do give that to others to help them in life"
    Meditation will help all these people to erase the negative illustrations and build true happiness.With Metta
  • Observer
    Please read these studies on the use of anti depressants as these will probably be what many Drs offer.

    The info on the studies in the links below indicates that there are high risks in the first 4 weeks of starting to take antidepressants or when coming off the antidepressants.

    One of the studies suggests the long term consquences of taking anti depressants are quite negative in adults. Another study highlights that the data provided by the drug companies on their randomized triald is poor and even misleading. GSK settled a multibillion case in the USA for inappropriately pushing an SSRI called Paxil and another anti depressant Wellbutin
    Paxil was restricted for use in under 18s as it was linked to a high rate of suicides.

    Additionally no one should stop taking their medication unless medically supervised. Any ending of antidepressants needs to be gradual and tapered over time or else it can cause life threatening issues. Please be very careful in starting or stopping these treatments they have long term consequences.
  • Observer
    If you need confirmation of how serious the subject of antidepressants is just watch the youtube videos in the links below by Jordan Peterson who is a Prof of Psychology, and also a clinical psychologist who had many patients, talk about the effects antidepressants had on him after taking them from at least 2012

    Prof Peterson taught at Harvard for 5 years and then moved to the University of Toronto. He is pretty well known around the world. Some people love him some hate him, however you will see from the videos that in 2012 he says that he is taking an unnamed SSRI plus another antidepressant Wellbutrin. The 2012 video title says he will take them forever as it helps him.

    By 2019 or 2020 he was on other medication - Clonazepam which is a Benzodiazepine antidepressant is named in the title - the full interview is in the last link of this post a shorter interview is below


    2018/2019 Prof Peterson ended up with health issues due to the antidepressant medication and then this eventually became a life threatening issue, related to coming off the medication. His treatment in the USA and Canada included being given other meds, much of which he said did not work. He indicates these treatments in the USA and Canada were not good for him or getting cured.

    Over 2019 and 2020 Prof Peterson has been in clinics in Canada, USA, Russia and Serbia being treated for chronic withdrawal symptoms caused by anti depressants. In Russia he was put into a medical coma.

    Love him or hate him Professor Peterson has been extremely brave to share his painful experiences so publically and potentially allowing his enemies to use this against him in some way or other.

    It is clear from the last video that Prof Peterson still has a some way to go in his healing process. He currently has caught covid-19.
    It is very insightful and helpful to see someone in the medical field, specializing in mental health, being prescribed antidepressants by other Drs and not being aware of the results of the medication he was taking. He does address this in his interview with his daughter.

    The interviews cover a range of opinions he expresses on how antidepressants help others and him personally. His 2020 interview with his daughter shows he is in many ways traumatized by the effects of the antidepressants.





    There is also this link below which is nothing to do with Jordan Peterson. It looks at antidepressent use in Australia - it indicates use of these drug in Australia is the second highest in the OECD
  • Valentine Michael Smith
    @Observer : people feel well with their bodies in metabolic balance, enabled only by the food that supports each persons's body, for each to discover. A person's inclination toward this indicates their emotional and perhaps genetic fitness.