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Amid Pandemic, Nearly Half of US Young Adults Show Depressive Symptoms

November 16, 2020

Almost half of young adults in the United States show at least moderate symptoms of depression, and more than a third report thoughts of suicide or death, according to a nationwide survey published online by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States.

The findings, researchers pointed out, are 10 times greater than reported in the general population before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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 paper coauthor Katherine Ognyanova, PhD, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Researchers surveyed Americans ages 18 through 24 via 4 national polls: 2387 young adults in May; 1600 in June; 2903 in August; and 2053 in October. 

Several Conditions Elevate Risk of COVID-19 Depression 

Mild or moderate depression, generalized anxiety, and sleep disruptions tended to be more common among women, researchers reported, a finding consistent with pre-pandemic reports. The study found little difference between rates of suicidality in men and women. 

Adverse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were common among young adults, with 51% having experienced closures of in-person school or university, 41% working from home, 27% having experienced a cut in pay, and 26% have lost a job.

“It is crucial,” Dr. Ognyanova said, “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.” 

The COVID-19 Consortium is joint project of Rutgers University; Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Perlis RH, Green J, Quintana A, et al. The State of the Nation: A 50-State COVID-19 Survey. Report #23: Depression Among Young Adults. The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States. November 2020.

Schumann M. More young adults are thinking about suicide and death, national survey finds [press release]. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University; November 11, 2020.

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