An unanticipated finding, across all three surveys, was the outsized toll on young adults. In the CDC survey, 62.9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds reported an anxiety or depressive disorder, a quarter said they were using more drugs and alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress, and a quarter said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the previous 30 days. Young adults were also the most affected age group in an unusual, real-time study that tracked the rapid rise in “acute distress” and depression at three points between mid-March and mid-April. “We expected the opposite because it was already clear that older individuals were at greater risk” from the virus, says senior author Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine.
Silver suspects that young people “may have had more disruption in life events: graduations, weddings, the senior year of college and of high school. All those transitions were disrupted, as well as school and social connections, which we know are very important for young people.”