Story at a glance
- Adolescents and young adults have had their lives upended during the pandemic with remote learning and loss of opportunities to socialize.
- Surveys suggest that there has been a significant increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression, and some subgroups may be hit harder than others.
- A major source of stress for Gen Z individuals is the future of the nation and the uncertainty around it.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental wellness of many people around the world, and some experts are concerned about the lasting effects it could have on adolescents and young adults especially.
“The risk for the future is that we have a group who have spent almost a year and a half of their early life in a total blackout, gaining no experience or human capital,” Massimiliano Mascherini, the head of social policy at the EU’s foundation for living and working, told The Guardian. “They may represent a part of the workforce that will suffer throughout their lives.”
A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) from 2020 found more than 7 in 10 Generation Z individuals reported symptoms of depression and reported the highest level of stress compared to other age groups. “Life cannot be lived in social networks or video calls. We need people around us to make sense of ourselves,” a Dutch student tells The Guardian. “My mental health deteriorated so badly. I had to start antidepressants,” an undergraduate student from the U.K. told the Guardian.
A recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry surveyed people in Iceland ages 13 to 18 in 2016, 2018 and 2020. The researchers found an increase in depressive symptoms and worse mental well being during the pandemic along with greater use of substances like cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and alcohol. These outcomes were worse in adolescent girls than in boys, according to the authors.
A similar study of 500 people in the age group above at 18 to 25 years old found similar results that suggested women were more impacted than men. The young women showed increased rates of depression and anxiety symptoms. “Although certain public health measures were important in controlling the spread of the virus, the benefits of social support and interaction, which often act as buffers against the effects of stress, have also been reduced due to the pandemic,” said senior author James MacKillop in a press release.
“Collectively, these results indicate the importance of critical thinking and considering population subgroups when it comes to COVID-19's psychological impacts," MacKillop said in the press release. “Rather than uniform increases or decreases, it's increasingly clear that subgroups will show very different patterns, including both negative and, in some cases, positive changes.”
Another subgroup is LGBT youth. In a survey, 73 percent of them reported anxiety symptoms, 67 percent reported depression symptoms and 48 percent reported serious thoughts of suicide, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This group was already at increased risk for depression, suicidal ideation and substance use before the pandemic.
The APA survey also highlighted that some of the reasons for stress among Gen Z individuals include current events, such as widespread sexual harassment or assault reports in the news, rise in suicide rates or change in abortion laws. Nearly 80 percent of Gen Zers said the future of the nation was a significant source of stress.
“I feel constantly anxious,” said a 23-year-old student in Estonia to the Guardian. “It’s the uncertainty about the future that hurts the most.”
Researchers will need to continue to study the ongoing effects of the pandemic to understand the potential long-term implications. “This is a very bleak mix of mental health, economic and social impacts,” Mascherini told Guardian. “In previous recessions, those who suffered most, in terms of the labour market, bore the scars in later employability. They never caught up.”
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