The Show on KJZZ

Listen live weekdays at 9 a.m.

Continuing rise in anxiety, depression in young adults predates COVID-19

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2023 - 2:55pm
Updated: Friday, January 20, 2023 - 7:16am
Audio icon Download mp3 (2.12 MB)
Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Anne Marie Albano
Stony Brook School of Social Welfare
Melissa Bessaha
UC Berkeley
Adrian Aguilera.

Anxiety and depression have been on the rise in young adults since before the pandemic, isolating teens, tweens and 20-somethings at vital junctures of social development.

Experts recently discussed what researchers are calling “the loneliest generation.”

“You withdraw or avoid things, meaning everyday life situations that otherwise are a part of your role in life and being a part of the world. And they don't just simply pass with time,” said Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Anxiety disorders begin early, affecting up to 9% of preschoolers; 15% of teens have an anxiety disorder, panic disorder or phobia.

“These conditions start early, and they continue if they're left untreated, and anxiety happens to be one of those conditions that is most often not treated,” said Albano.

Almost one-quarter of people in their 20s have diagnosed anxiety, and major depression is on the rise, especially among females.

Contributing factors include cyberbullying, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and fears about the future.

“LGBTQ youth are looking to access more information about mental health; generally speaking, they tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety,” said Adrian Aguilera of the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. “So there's kind of a need. And so it speaks to the, again, the need to develop services and resources for these populations and all the various things that they're struggling with.”

Melissa Bessaha of the State University of New York Stony Brook School of Social Welfare said expense, limited access and stigma place barriers in the way of seeking treatment.

“These rates have become even more pronounced due to the pandemic. Already-low rates of mental health service use among young adults are even lower among those who are from low-income backgrounds in minoritized, racial and ethnic groups,” she said.

Although mental health disorders present challenges at any age, having them occur during these formative years is especially conserving.  

“The effects of stress and mental illness can really include higher rates of depression, anxiety, even loneliness in young adulthood that can really disrupt critical developmental milestones such as identity formation, relationships, academics, pursuing higher education and professional achievement,” said Bessaha.

Experts advise listening to teens without judgment, giving weight to their proposed solutions and recognizing they face challenges different from those of previous generations.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.   

Science Health + Medicine