By Megan Schumann, Rutgers University Office of Communications
More than one-third of young adults in the United States report having thoughts of death and suicide, while nearly half show at least moderate symptoms of depression, according to a nationwide survey led by researchers from Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Northeastern, Harvard and Northwestern universities.
Researchers say these findings are 10 times higher than what was exhibited in the general population before the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 coauthor 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 all regions of the U.S.
Researchers say this age group has been hit hard by COVID-19 consequences, including closure of in-person school or university (reported by 51 percent), working from home (41 percent), a pay cut (27 percent) or losing employment (26 percent).
The largest increase in symptoms was among those whose homes were impacted or potentially impacted because of eviction or the inability to pay the rent or mortgage, followed by those whose income was impacted either by losing a job or having their income reduced through a pay cut.
The report found that mild or moderate depression, generalized anxiety and disrupted sleep are somewhat higher among women than men, which is consistent with reports prior to COVID-19. While thoughts of suicide showed the least difference between the two, the greatest difference among men and women was sleep disruption.
“It is crucial that the incoming Biden administration’s plans for a pandemic response, COVID-19 relief and economic recovery include a 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 Rutgers University, Northeastern University, Harvard University and Northwestern University. The consortium has released 22 reports and has charted public opinion related to COVID-19 topics since late April.