People of all ages are experiencing the mental health toll of COVID-19, but young adults, in particular, seem to be experiencing truly devastating mental health effects. While this age group should be having the time of their lives right now — enjoying college, parties, relationships, and new careers — they are instead stuck on their couches at Zoom University, working first jobs from home (if they even have a job), and lacking human connection — and it’s costing them, big time.
A recent CDC survey shows that a whopping 74.9% of people ages 18-24 reported at least one negative mental health symptom, and even more upsetting, 25.5% of people in this age group seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. Additionally, this age bracket had the highest rates of substance use as a means to cope with COVID related stress.
The data makes it clear: though hundreds of thousands of people have now died due to the virus, this isn’t just a physical health crisis. It’s also a mental health crisis, and people are hurting.
What’s Causing the Mental Health Crisis?
The main causes of this mental health crisis boil down to two things: isolation and lack of human connection. According to Talkspace provider Catherine Richardson, MA, LPC, it’s crucial that young adults experience human connection and form relationships, both platonic and romantic, during their college and early post-college years. However, during the pandemic, there are clear obstacles to in-person human connection. Richardson says that many aspects of social life that college students usually have access to, whether it’s sports, dorms, or brunches, are gone, and it’s causing harmful effects on their mental health.
“Isolation and lack of socializing are detrimental to mental health because, as humans, we are built for connection,” says Richardson. “When that outside environment is negative or non-existent we begin to turn inward and internalize the absence of community as something being wrong with us, even if we know that isn’t true cognitively.”
Sure, young adults have social media and Zoom, but it isn’t the same. Online socializing does not produce the same effects as in-person socializing, especially for young adults going through important developmental stages. There is, as Richardson put it, an absence of community.
Not to mention, normal stressors feel so much more intense during the pandemic, which can lead to increased anxiety. Richardson says that under normal circumstances, we can handle moderate levels of stress because we’ve developed resilience to common day-to-day struggles. But when we’re dealing with a pandemic on top of this, little stressors can feel huge and have a serious effect on our mood.
“When we are experiencing a threat to our safety, relationships, or physical well being, these stressors can feel much heavier,” Richardson says. “These threats create cracks in the foundation of our emotional well being and those smaller hits are felt much more than when we are operating with a solid foundation.”
On top of all of this, young adults are dealing with so much uncertainty. First, there is the great unknown of when this pandemic will be “over” and when life will return to the way it was before. Then, for young adults specifically, there’s the uncertainty surrounding when college will be back to normal, when the job market will improve and office life back in action, and ultimately, when socializing can occur without fear of infection.
When thinking about these factors, it’s no wonder these negative mental health statistics are as high as they are.
What You Can Do for Yourself and Others
With this mental health crisis, it’s very important to stay aware of how you are feeling during this time. Check in with yourself, and if you have the emotional capacity, check in with your friends. Some people are very intuitive and can easily tell when they are feeling off mentally, but for others, it may take some serious introspection. Additionally, you may be experiencing symptoms that you don’t even realize are related to mental health.
Be on the lookout for signs of depression and anxiety in yourself and those close to you. Richardson says the following are some things you should look out for:
Possible signs of depression:
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Decreased motivation to complete tasks
- Self-isolating from loved ones
- Changes to appetite or weight
Possible signs of an anxiety disorder:
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
When You Should Get Professional Help
If the symptoms you are experiencing are getting in the way of your day-to-day functioning with school or work, or impacting your relationships, you should consider getting help from a mental health professional. Richardson says some other signs that you should get professional help are if you have the urge to harm yourself or others, if you’re not enjoying activities you used to enjoy, or if you find yourself struggling to do the daily bare-minimum like bathing, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed.
There is no shame in seeking professional mental health help. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can feel better.
What to Do If You’re Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts
Since the rate young adults considering suicide is so high right now, its imortant to discuss what to do if you’re experiencing suicidal ideation. Richardson says to look out for these warning signs:
- If you feel as if the world would be better off without you.
- If you have made a plan to harm yourself, including identified means to do it.
- If you use phrases such as “I wish it was all over” or “I just want to make it end.”
Some suicide warning signs to look out for in others include:
- Talking about feeling trapped and hopeless
- Saying they want to die
- Exhibiting reckless behavior
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from others
If you feel suicidal, especially if you feel like you might follow through with a plan, do not hesitate to either go to your closest emergency room, call a trusted mental health professional, or call a 24/7 crisis hotline. Some options include:
- The Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- The Jed Foundation (specializes in young adults): 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project (specializes in LGBTQ+ young adults): 1-866-488-7386
Although the world may seem pretty hopeless right now, there is hope for young adults’ mental health. Help is out there, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you need. Plus, if the statistics show anything, it’s that you aren’t alone if you’re suffering right now. It’s possible to feel better, hang in there.