New Data Source: Young Adult Emotional Well-Being During COVID-19
June 03, 2020

It was never a question of if COVID-19 would impact the emotional well-being of adolescents and young adults (AYAs), but rather, what will be the extent of the impact? The United States Census Bureau has been collecting data since April 23, 2020 to shed light on the answer to that question. The  Household Pulse Survey is distributed weekly with responses analyzed and reported at the same frequency. The U.S. Census Bureau plans to continue distributing the weekly survey for a total of 90 days. It includes questions related to employment, education, food security, health, and housing. The section assessing health impacts includes four questions asking specifically about symptoms of anxiety and depression. The questions are derived from depression (PHQ-2) and anxiety (GAD-2) screening tools and are as follows:

Over the last 7 days, how often have you been bothered by the following problems…

  • Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge?
  • Not being able to stop or control worrying?
  • Having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  • Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?

The results of the latest weekly survey (distributed May 21-26) found that young adults aged 18-29 are experiencing the greatest impacts on their emotional well-being based on reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Data summaries prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 29.4% of all respondents reported symptoms of anxiety and 24.9% of respondents reported symptoms of depression.  However, when the data is broken down by age, those rates are highest among young adults with 39.1% of 18-29 year olds reporting symptoms of anxiety and 36.7% reporting symptoms of depression.

Data for reported frequency of symptoms of anxiety and depression during the last 7 days are also broken down by state and are available for viewing on the Center for Disease Control’s Household Pulse Survey website. According to the data, all adult respondents (ages 18+) in Louisiana (41.4%), Nevada (40.7%), and Florida (39.1%) are faring the worst while Minnesota (26.1%), Iowa (25.9%), and Idaho (24.8%) have the lowest rates of reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.

After asking “what is the impact?” the next logical question is, “what can we do about it?” To answer this question, we can look to localized, youth-led initiatives that are working hard to create community and connection during a time of physical distancing and social isolation. Groups like WE RISE and Active Minds are leaning on young adults to reach out to their peers and share messaging that is supportive to mental health and points to available resources.

  • WE RISE is a project of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health that organizes “events [that] are calls to action to break through barriers and defy old assumptions about mental health and the many related social conditions that compound problems and hurt our communities.” Most recently, this group hosted a Virtual May that emphasized well-being through art and opportunities for online connection.
  • Active Minds self describes as “the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults.” Headquartered in Washington, D.C., this organization has a presence at more than 800 colleges, which includes 550 student-led chapters with “programs and services to empower student to reduce stigma surrounding mental health, create communities of support, and ultimately save lives.” Check out Active Mind’s list of chapters to find one you can connect with in your efforts to disseminate mental health messaging in your state.

While we’ve highlighted only two organizations, there are many more organizations just like them across the country—consider finding and connecting with these types of youth-led organizations in your state to learn how you can help amplify their messages and support their efforts. The Adolescent and Young Adult Health National Resource Center recently released a resource, “Improving Young Adult Health: State & Local Strategies for Success” that provides concrete strategies that Title V agencies and others can use to advance young adult health.

For additional support, check out these resources for taking action to improve the emotional well-being of young adults:

  • Love is Louder is a campaign out of the Jed Foundation that is focused on COVID-specific emotional well-being resources and messaging for Young Adults.