Coronavirus

The pandemic has taken a toll on young adults’ mental health. A new study reveals just how severe it is.

"No region of the country has been spared."

Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe, File

It may come as no surprise that young adults are experiencing higher rates of depression and other mental health concerns as the COVID-19 pandemic rages forward in the U.S.

But just how much higher are these cases compared to the pre-pandemic past?

A new report led by Massachusetts General Hospital, and authored by experts including those at Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, and Northeastern University, shows that young adults, ages 18 to 24, throughout the country are experiencing higher rates of major depressive symptoms. The study was aimed at depression rates among this age group, and whether they had changed in summer through the early fall, considering that new areas of the country were experiencing virus outbreaks. This new study was a follow-up to one released in May, which saw higher instances of depression spanned across all ages — depression was up 27 percent compared to in the past.

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This latest study showed that in October, 47.3 percent of young adults were “showing at least moderate depressive symptoms … the highest level since June,” it said.

“While the Northeast US might have fared slightly better in early summer, no region of the country has been spared,” according to the study. “Rates of anxiety have also increased in parallel. Conversely, while sleep disruption is the most common symptom, it has modestly decreased, from 75.4% in May to 72.2% in October.”

The study also found that more young people have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Overall, the rate of these thoughts for all adults from 2013 to 2014 was 3.4 percent. But for young adults in May, 32.2 percent of those surveyed said they had these thoughts. In October, this went up to 36.9 percent.

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The survey found that mental health issues, including anxiety, mild depressive symptoms, moderate depressive symptoms, and sleep interruptions, were about the same across different races and ethnicities. Considering gender, women were more likely to experience symptoms.

With the mental health symptoms, of course, comes the major life changes that the pandemic brought on for many. Just one in five young adults said they hadn’t experienced a major change. For others, nearly 51 percent said their school or university had closed, the life change most reported by the group. The next was transitioning to working from home (41 percent), followed by a pay cut brought on by less hours or demand for work (about 28 percent), with 26 percent saying they’d been laid off or had lost their job.

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“The next US President will confront impacts far broader than COVID-19 infection alone in trying to deal with the pandemic,” the study said in its conclusion. “Neither candidate provided much detail about their response to the mental health consequences of the disease and efforts to contain it. In line with our May results, our survey indicates that the next administration will lead a country where unprecedented numbers of younger individuals are experiencing depression, anxiety, and, for some, thoughts of suicide.”

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