Young people hit hardest by loneliness and depression during Covid-19
Loneliness can be a risk factor in a range of health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. All problems that are unsurprisingly increasing as we continue to remain isolated during the pandemic.
However it would appear that one demographic is feeling the effects of isolation more than others. A CDC online survey indicates that young people between the ages of 18-24 are more likely to suffer mental health problems during the pandemic than any age group.
According to this survey, 63% of young people are suffering significant symptoms of anxiety or depression. Nearly a quarter of respondents reported that they had started or increased their abuse of substances, including alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs, to cope with their emotions.
Their experiences during the pandemic put them at risk of developing Covid-19 related PTSD. This is a general problem developing throughout society but felt acutely by young adults. This data quantifies an alarming trend that we have seen emerge anecdotally, that the pandemic will have a long lasting impact on the mental health of young people.
One of the authors of the study, Mark Czeisler is hoping to conduct further research into why this particular demographic is so affected. He is currently looking into the extent in which people can tolerate uncertainty, or “the ability to accept the unknown, because now there are so many questions, especially for young people, about relative risk, duration of the pandemic and what their futures will look like.”
For young people who are navigating choices about higher education, their careers, building relationships or deciding when to start a family, the uncertainty of the pandemic can add pressure to already stressful decisions.
They may feel like their options are restricted or like their lives are on an endless pause during a critical developmental stage. Teenage and young adult brains are wired for new experiences and that developmental need is not being met. These stressors are in addition to the anxiety we all feel about our health and the health of our loved ones.
Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education helped lead a study conducted last October by researchers at Making Care Common which further reinforced the results of the CDC survey.
The study highlighted the rising trend in loneliness among young adults compared to the elderly. As discussed, loneliness is at the root of many mental health Issues. In a national survey, of approximately 950 Americans, 36 percent reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time” in the past four weeks. Sixty-one percent of the respondents aged 18 to 25 reported high levels of loneliness.
Weissbourd and his team argue that tackling loneliness and associated mental health issues would require a “robust social infrastructure” and suggests that key social and cultural institutions including workplaces, schools and colleges, and religious and community organizations, can be far more intentional and systematic about connecting us to each other through events and initiatives.
These institutions can also encourage and support the behaviors and skills needed in caring for those who are lonely. Outside of these systems, we can also look to our health systems to address these issues. Doctors can incorporate questions about loneliness in annual physical checkups, and later help connect those struggling to treatment, resources, and support groups.