WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Closed schools, lost jobs, forced isolation from friends and family — the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of millions, with young adults hit hardest.
According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of adults ages 18 to 24 have reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. That’s higher than any other age group.
Elena, Whitney, and Caitlin have all sought professional help in dealing with pandemic-related anxiety and depression and all three agreed to a group discussion with NewsNation, using only their first names.
“In a way, everyone else has kind of been able to see what it’s like to live with depression because some of the things we’re forced to do during the pandemic are things that happen to you anyway if you have depression,” said Elena.
Even for those already aware of the physical and mental effects of anxiety and depression, the pandemic has presented new challenges.
“I had always dealt with anxiety, but this kind of sense of loneliness, this sense of dread, getting up in the morning kind of this weight… I started to feel like that was a big part of my life during the pandemic,” said Whitney.
Experts say early adulthood is already a time of change and challenge, and many struggle to cope — even in the best of times. And that’s without the unknowns of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
For those NewsNation spoke with, the decision to seek professional help came at different stages of the pandemic.
“I would say after we kind of made it through the summer, fall was coming around, and I was like, ‘Gosh it’s never ending. Like, we’re in this for the long haul and there’s still not a vaccine,’” said Whitney.
For young mothers like Caitlin, all of the uncertainty adds another layer of stress.
“What’s happening? Are they going back to school? How am I going to work from home while taking care of them and the nanny can’t come and we can’t see friends but they need to socialize,” she said. “You know, so it was just like a lot of worrying about the unknown and not having to answer.”
Harvard University professor Shekhar Saxena says the fallout for young adults could last years.
“The losses they will suffer in their education, in their job, in their income capacity… they change the trajectory, the course of a person,” said Saxena. “And that has a direct impact on their mental health and their well-being.”
Psychotherapist Cindy Crane says — since day one — the number of people seeking help has skyrocketed.
“We’ve never had so many clients. We’ve never had so many clients who really are in acute need,” said Crane. “A lot of my adults are just struggling to get out of bed on a day-to-day basis, and some of my clients have actually had mental breakdowns.”
Crane says early treatment is vital and can help mitigate long-term problems. Among the strategies for coping, Crane tells her clients to reach out to others who are going through the same challenges.
“I think it’s maybe important to recognize self-care, and trying to set some boundaries for yourself, even when things are totally out of sync,” said Crane.
As vaccines take hold and the virus shows signs of loosening its grip, those on the front lines say there are positive lessons to be learned from a year of lockdowns and isolation.
“I think the pandemic has given us an opportunity to recognize how much we need each other, how much community matters,” said Crane.