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Poll: Pandemic takes toll on mental health of young adults

A new poll has found that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of young adults in the United States.

Posted: Sep 11, 2020 10:15 AM

PHOENIX (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of young Americans, according to a new poll that finds adults under 35 especially likely to report negative feelings or experience physical or emotional symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.

A majority of Americans ages 18 through 34 — 56% — say they have at least sometimes felt isolated in the past month, compared with about 4 in 10 older Americans, according to the latest COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Twenty-five percent of young adults rate their mental health as fair or poor, compared with 13% of older adults, while 56% of older adults say their mental health is excellent or very good, compared with just 39% of young adults.

In the midst of the pandemic, young adults are navigating life transitions such as starting college and finding jobs, all without being able to experience normal social activities that might be especially essential for people who are less likely to have already married and started their own families. Some young people are just beginning their adult lives amid a recession, and older members of the group are already experiencing their second.

Christina Torres, 32, a middle school teacher in Honolulu, had to postpone her June wedding and was not able to travel to her grandmother’s funeral in California because of the pandemic. She misses being able to deal with stress by going to the gym and getting together with friends.

“And so it’s hard to not feel really hopeless sometimes, especially because the numbers keep going up," she said.

The study found that younger Americans also consistently show higher rates of psychosomatic symptoms, like having trouble sleeping, getting headaches or crying, compared to other age groups. The likelihood of experiencing such symptoms decreases with age.

One possible explanation for the age gap could be that young adults have less experience dealing with a public health crisis, said Tom Smith, who has directed NORC's General Social Survey since 1980. Smith, 71, says he grew up being told not to play in the dirt because of the risk of contracting polio.

"This experience facing a pandemic is completely new for most younger adults,” he said.

Torres thought some of the hardship her generation is experiencing now could be attributed to their lack of historical context, compared with her parents' generation.

“So it kind of feels like, oh my God, can this get any worse? When is it going to get better?" she said. "It doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better.”

Young adults also face constant exposure to social media, which could make negative feelings about the virus even worse. The survey found that frequently watching, reading or talking about the virus is consistently linked with higher rates of negative mental health symptoms.

Wayne Evans, 18, a freshman at North Carolina State University studying remotely after being sent home because of virus cases at the school, said social media provided daily reminders of COVID-19.

“In some ways social media has added to my stressors, yes. Just the information overload that’s unavoidable on social media platforms can be distracting,” he said.

The survey found 67% of young adults, but just 50% of those older, say they have at least sometimes felt that they were unable to control the important things in life. And 55% of 18 to 34 year olds say they have felt difficulties piling up too high to overcome, compared with 33% of older adults.

In Arizona, Desiree Eskridge, 17, decided to study remotely in California for her first year at Northern Arizona University partly because she did not want to risk spreading COVID-19 to her family, which is prone to sickness. She also worried she would get sick and have to pay back a student loan for a semester she could not finish on the campus.

She did move into her grandparents’ house so she could still be more on her own. She relies on friends who are living on campus and taking the same classes to explain things she did not quite understand during lectures and has to schedule extra Zoom appointments with her professors for additional help.

“It’s extremely stressful, but me being home makes it a little easier because I can do it all in my own time and my own space and I don’t have to be in this new environment where I have to learn everything all over,” she said.

_____

Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Wheat Ridge, Colorado contributed to this report. Kelleher reported from Honolulu.

___

The survey of 2,007 adults was conducted July 22-August 10 with funding from the National Science Foundation. It uses a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 289303

Reported Deaths: 3434
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Hennepin616511100
Ramsey25903487
Anoka20522218
Dakota20096183
Washington13066109
Stearns1291098
St. Louis7935101
Scott782754
Wright702436
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Sherburne538640
Clay463856
Carver432213
Blue Earth387112
Rice386033
Kandiyohi373819
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Nobles298729
Chisago29358
Otter Tail282818
Benton278642
Winona258128
Mower241323
Douglas237631
Polk234423
Morrison219524
Lyon201911
McLeod195610
Beltrami194615
Becker187512
Goodhue185727
Steele17826
Itasca176124
Isanti174316
Todd171612
Carlton165710
Nicollet150823
Freeborn14465
Mille Lacs141630
Le Sueur138110
Waseca134011
Cass12849
Brown125011
Pine12458
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Roseau10503
Hubbard103822
Martin101920
Wabasha9611
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Renville75119
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Houston6422
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Jackson4361
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Mahnomen2704
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Traverse1360
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Cook600

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Cases: 222064

Reported Deaths: 2319
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33019331
Linn13877164
Scott1085683
Black Hawk10730134
Woodbury10159121
Johnson935536
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Story669721
Dallas624657
Pottawattamie612469
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Marshall343545
Cerro Gordo342644
Clinton319839
Buena Vista300014
Des Moines281719
Muscatine280968
Warren274011
Plymouth268941
Wapello251171
Jones227913
Jasper212443
Marion201719
Lee197916
Carroll195422
Bremer191312
Henry18037
Crawford173015
Benton166217
Tama152240
Jackson142113
Delaware140221
Washington137414
Dickinson134210
Boone134011
Mahaska125327
Wright12156
Buchanan115010
Clay11314
Hardin113010
Page11134
Hamilton10809
Clayton10715
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Calhoun10487
Kossuth10236
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Mills10177
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Lyon10058
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Butler9746
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Iowa92312
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Grundy83811
Chickasaw8354
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Cass79721
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Mitchell7704
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Union7546
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Jefferson6852
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Palo Alto6454
Unassigned6320
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