Half of Young Adults Report Struggling With Mental Health During COVID, Depression Most Rampant in Southern States: Survey

As the new coronavirus pandemic continues to interrupt daily activities, halt plans, increase isolation and affect job stability, reports show people of all ages are facing mental health challenges at higher rates than the U.S. has seen before.

Results of a recent survey, conducted by researchers at Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern and Rutgers University, indicated almost half of young adults experienced at least moderate symptoms of depression in October.

The research cohort—which has released several reports examining the pandemic's impacts on mental health throughout the year—compared its latest figures to others determined in the late spring and summer. It found the incidence of depression reported among U.S. adults aged 18 to 24 in October was similar to the prevalence seen last May. At the time, stay-at-home orders across the country were just recently lifted, or, in some cases, remained active after months in effect.

Subsequent surveys distributed over the summer indicated that fewer young adults struggled with mental health in June, July and August—although rates did not dip below 40 percent, nationally, throughout the three-month period. In addition to tracking the pervasiveness of generalized depression among this age bracket, surveys collected responses about specific symptoms, including anxiety, trouble sleeping, and thoughts of suicide.

While slightly fewer respondents experienced sleep interruptions each month between May and October—researched noted a decrease from roughly 75 percent reported in May to roughly 72 percent reported in October—more said they experienced anxiety, as well as thoughts of death or suicide, as the year progressed. In October, the report found more than 36 percent of young adults said they experienced suicidal thoughts during the two weeks that preceded their participation in the survey. That number was up from 32 percent in May, which already exceeded rates reported before the pandemic tenfold.

The university researchers' latest report also measured changes in depression rates seen among young adults living in different areas of the U.S. It found that young people living in southern states reported experiencing at least moderate symptoms of depression at higher rates than those living elsewhere in October, similar to results reported in May.

Young people living in western states experienced the second-highest prevalence of mental health challenges, followed by young people living in the Northeast, and finally, the Midwest. Rates seen among each geographic group varied throughout the five-month reporting period, but almost all remained above 40 percent. Only young people in the northeastern states reported having experienced symptoms of depression at rates marginally below that threshold in June.

Newsweek reached out to the report's authors for additional comments, but did not receive replies in time for publication.

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Students are seen wearing face masks while on campus at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, on October 6. Results of a recent survey showed almost 50 percent of young adults are experiencing at least moderate symptoms of depression across the U.S. during the pandemic. ROBERT CHIARITO/AFP via Getty Images