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We need to talk about the pandemic’s effect on the mental health of young adults

Since the word “coronavirus” entered the world’s collective consciousness five months ago, all sense of predictability has been lost. The past few months have been a rollercoaster, and no one seems to know what is going to come next or when the pandemic will end. It is nearly impossible to feel any sense of security. People are isolated, they are stressed and they are tired. COVID-19 has serious mental health implications, and it’s time to start talking about them.

When considering your own mental health, it’s important to recognize the unprecedented nature of the stressors in our national and global environment. The pandemic has resulted in the deaths of over 190,000 Americans, severe unemployment and a global recession. These are not exactly uplifting facts, but that is the point: we are living through the unimaginable. It is normal to feel uneasy; the New England Journal of Medicine reported that public health emergencies, such as COVID-19, will result in widespread emotional distress. They also state that it is important for these emotional outcomes to be addressed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) symptoms of anxiety and depression had multiplied in June of 2020, compared to their data for the second quarter of 2019. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depression disorder were three and four times more common, respectively, than in 2019. The CDC also reported an increase in substance use and serious thoughts of suicide.

These statistics are not distributed equally across age ranges in the U.S.; young adults are among the top demographics affected. The CDC reports that close to half of people ages 18-24 have symptoms of anxiety or depression. This is a significantly higher proportion than those seen in older age groups. It can be expected that older adults already have their social lives established, as they have had more time to create their own support system. They’re also more likely to have stable partners to keep them grounded during times of crisis. Young people often have not had enough time to develop these securities. If you have been wondering how your parents, or even grandparents, have been keeping it together so well, rest assured that you are not alone.

National Public Radio (NPR) published an article by Yuki Noguchi that explores why young people are being affected by the social limitations of COVID-19 at higher rates. Noguchi explains that for young adults, socialization is actually a critical part of development, and it provides us with a stronger sense of self.  

If you have been feeling lost lately, this may be why. These are trying times, and while jokes about how awful 2020 is are prominent on social media, it is important to realize that this is a hard year, and it’s okay to feel lost. Allow yourself to feel lost. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with someone else; chances are that they have experienced something similar in these past months.

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