Coronavirus-induced anxiety and depression continue to exert a mental toll on U.S. residents, especially among young adults, even as rising U.S. vaccination rates and falling COVID-19 cases signal a gradual return to pre-pandemic rhythms, according to a new survey by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers.
Since the researchers began conducting regular surveys of U.S. residents about the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, respondents have indicated no improvement in the prevalence of sleepless nights, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
About 28 percent of the 22,000 U.S. residents surveyed reported levels of depression that would typically require professional treatment. That was down slightly compared to the peak of 30 percent in December 2020 but remained about three times higher than before the pandemic, researchers found.
Twenty-three percent said they had considered suicide, about the same as in December.
Adults 18 to 24 years of age—typically college students and first-time parents—were hit hardest by the psychological fallout from lockdowns, social isolation, and online learning, with the most recent survey showing 42 percent of them reporting at least moderate depression. That figure was down from 47 percent in October, but still the highest among all age ranges.
Respondents 65 years and older were the least affected, with just 10 percent reporting that they felt depressed.
“Younger adults have lives that are more dynamic than older adults,” says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer sciences at Northeastern and one of the researchers who conducted the study. “They’re finishing school, getting a job, starting a family, all things that are more likely to be disrupted by the pandemic.”