COVID-19 drastically impacted mental health of teens and young adults

Various studies released over the last two years have indicated as such - teens and young adults are among those hit the hardest by pandemic-related mental health issues.

Depression (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE)
Depression (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE)

Throughout the past two years, the world has experienced immeasurable losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, there have been 6.15 million coronavirus-related deaths recorded across the world, and almost 500 million registered coronavirus cases overall.

In addition to this, there is still much that needs to be learned about the long-term impact of the virus on those who were infected but survived. Long-COVID – the phenomenon wherein symptoms persist and even worsen long after the initial infection has passed – is estimated to affect between 10-30% of all people infected with the virus. 

Another long-term effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has been largely overlooked is the impact that it has had on the mental health of teens and young adults. Various studies released over the last two years have indicated as such - teens and young adults are among those hit the hardest by pandemic-related mental health issues.

A new CDC report released at the end of March worked to illuminate the mental health issues that teens are dealing with as a result of the pandemic. According to the data, 37% of all high school students in 2021 reported experiencing poor mental health as a result of the pandemic, and 44% stated that they felt “persistently sad or hopeless” throughout the last year alone.

Prior to the pandemic, CDC data from 2019 showed that 36% of teens reported feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness, showing a rise in the number of students struggling with mental health issues.

Mental health [illustrative] (credit: PIXABAY)Mental health [illustrative] (credit: PIXABAY)

Teens during the coronavirus pandemic

According to the CDC statistics, over 55% of youth stated that they had experienced emotional abuse by parents or other adults at home, experiencing events such as being sworn at, insulted, or demeaned. An additional 11% were reported to have experienced physical abuse, including having been hit, kicked, or beaten by a parent or adult in the home.

Over a quarter of high school students (29%) reported that a parent or adult in the home had lost their job as a result of the pandemic.

Poor mental health was reported at a greater level among LGBTQ+ youth, many of whom faced emotional abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver. There were also more reports of attempted suicide among LGBTQ+ teens in comparison to their peers.

What could have been done to prevent the decline in mental wellness?

According to the CDC findings, teens who felt connected to their teachers and peers from school were less likely to have suffered from declining mental health throughout the pandemic. 

While 26% of high schoolers who did not have strong connections in a school setting reported having considered attempting suicide, this number drops to 14% among those who did. However, fewer than half of all teens (47%) reported feeling close to people at school during the pandemic, the CDC reports.

“School connectedness is a key to addressing youth adversities at all times – especially during times of severe disruptions,” CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health director Kathleen A. Ethier said.  “Students need our support now more than ever, whether by making sure that their schools are inclusive and safe or by providing opportunities to engage in their communities and be mentored by supportive adults.”

CDC acting principal deputy director Debra Houry commented on the data, saying it was “a cry for help.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing. Our research shows that surrounding youth with the proper support can reverse these trends and help our youth now and in the future.”

Young adults during the coronavirus pandemic

An impact report released by Young Minds, a UK based mental health charity, examines the impact of the pandemic on teens and young adults aged 13-25. 

The research for the report was conducted among teens and young adults with a preexisting history of mental illness or mental health needs, and therefore does not offer statistics on people who had not previously experienced mental health difficulties but later did as a result of the pandemic.

The study was conducted in January 2021 amid the third and final lockdown experienced in the UK. At the time, 75% of respondents stated that the lockdown was impacting them more severely than any previous lockdown, citing their main concerns as being loneliness and isolation, concerns around school, university or work, and a breakdown in routine.

All-in-all, 67% of those surveyed said they believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Many participants in the research expressed a sense of frustration with the situation, uncertainty about the future and a loss of hope. 

The negative mental impact had on young adults is apparent in the impact report. Some participants reported that they had begun experiencing panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and some reported having relapsed into old habits of self-harm.

The overwhelming cause cited for declining mental health in young adults was the loneliness and isolation experienced during lockdown, with 58% of participants citing it as one of the key factors. 

Other factors impacting the health of young adults included concerns about a loved one getting sick (36%), being unable to find a job (14%) and worries about money (12%). Additionally, 10% of people cited the negative way in which teens and young adults were being portrayed in the media as a source of anxiety for them.

What helped young adults with mental health problems during the pandemic?

When asked what resources had been most helpful for their mental health during the pandemic, 65% of young adults said that being able to rely on friends was a large source of help. Oher resources considered overwhelmingly helpful by those surveyed included being able to establish a routine, hobbies such as gaming, watching TV or exercising, and having a stable job.

However, there was an overwhelming lack of access to professional mental health support during the pandemic, the impact report revealed. Of those surveyed, only 54% said that they had been given access to some form of mental health support during the pandemic.

Summarizing the findings, Young Minds CEO Emma Thomas states that the research “shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to have a devastating impact on many young people with a history of mental health needs.”

In spite of everything, she says that “there are grounds for optimism. Most respondents believed that their mental health would start to improve once it was possible for most restrictions to be lifted. Some young people have developed strong coping mechanisms, and others have benefited from effective mental health support.

“However, two-thirds of respondents believed that the pandemic would have a long-term negative impact on their mental health. Unlike in our previous surveys, we heard numerous accounts of bereavement. Other young people were worried about whether their friendships would recover, whether they would get the grades they had previously hoped for, whether they would ever find a job. As we emerge from the pandemic, it will continue to be those already impacted by inequalities that are most likely to be affected.”