Newswise — Over a third (37%) of young Americans 18-24 report having thoughts of death and suicide and close to half (47%) show at least moderate symptoms of depression, according to a new nationwide survey by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Northeastern, Harvard and Northwestern universities.
Researchers say this is about ten times the rate observed in the general population prior to COVID-19.
The survey was published by The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States.
“These are clear indicators that the pandemic, with its social and economic consequences, is taking a heavy toll on the mental health of Americans and especially on young people,” said co-author Katherine Ognyanova, an assistant professor of communication at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information.
The report shows elevated rates of distress in both men and women, across racial and ethnic groups, and across regions of the U.S.
Researchers say this age group has been hit hard by COVID-19 consequences: these include closure of school or university (reported by 51% of 18-24 year olds) followed by working from home (41%), absorbing a pay cut (27%) or losing employment (26%).
The largest increase in symptoms was among those whose homes were impacted or potentially impacted such as eviction or inability to pay rent or mortgage, followed by those whose income was impacted such as unemployment or pay cuts.
The report found that mild or moderate depression, generalized anxiety and disrupted sleep is somewhat higher among women than men, which is consistent with reports prior to COVID-19. The greatest difference among men and women was sleep disruption, with a higher prevalence among women, while suicidality was the least different.
“It is crucial that the incoming Biden administration plans for its pandemic response, COVID-19 relief and economic recovery and that they also have a plan for their response to the mental health consequences of this crisis,” said Ognyanova.
Over four national surveys, the researchers polled young Americans. The data was collected in May (2,387 people), June (1,600 people), August (2,903 people), and October (2,053 people).
The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States is a joint project of The School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, The Network Science Institute of Northeastern University, The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, the Department of Political Science and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. The consortium has released 23 reports and has charted public opinion related to COVID-19 topics since late April.