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Coronavirus May Be Harder on Mental Health of Young Americans

A new public opinion study finds that the coronavirus health crisis has affected the mental health of young Americans under age 35.

The study found that 56 percent of Americans 18 through 34 said they felt isolated in the past month. That compares to 40 percent of older Americans.

The research group NORC at the University of Chicago carried out the study. It questioned more than 2000 people age 18 and older across the United States.

Younger adults are dealing with major life issues, including starting college and finding jobs. However, the pandemic has kept them from social activities that are especially important for unmarried people and those starting families.


FILE - In this June 1, 2020 file photo, a woman looks through a window at a near-empty terminal at an airport in Atlanta. A new survey found that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a harsh toll on the mental health of young Americans.

Many younger people are beginning their adult lives during an economic recession. Those in their 30s are experiencing their second.

Christina Torres is a 32-year-old schoolteacher in Honolulu, Hawaii. The health crisis forced her to postpone her marriage ceremony which had been set for June. The pandemic also stopped her from attending a funeral for her grandmother.

And, Torres misses her friends and exercising at the gym.

“…It’s hard not to feel hopeless sometimes, especially because the numbers keep going up,” she said.

The NORC study found that younger Americans show higher rates of psychosomatic problems. These include trouble sleeping and headaches. The likelihood of experiencing these problems decreases with age.

Tom Smith directs NORC’s General Social Survey. He said one possible reason for the difference between young and old is that young adults have less experience dealing with public health crises.

Smith, who is 71 years old, said he grew up with the health crisis of polio.

Torres thinks some of the difficulty for her generation comes from a lack of historical understanding shared by their parents’ generation.

She worries about the future. “It doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better,” she said.

Twenty-five percent of young adults in the study described their mental health as fair or poor. Thirteen percent of those 35 and older described themselves this way.

Wayne Evans is 18 years old. He is in his first year of studies at North Carolina State University. But he was sent home because there were a lot of coronavirus cases at the school. He said social media reminds him every day of the threat of COVID-19.

“In some ways social media has added to my stressors, yes,” he said.

The NORC study found 67 percent of young adults felt at least sometimes that they could not control the important things in life. That is compared to 50 percent of those 35 and older.

An even larger difference existed between young and old who felt that they could not overcome the increasing problems they faced.

Fifty-five percent of younger Americans said difficulties were growing too high, while only 33 percent of older Americans said the same.

Evans blamed social media as part of the problem.

“Just the information overload that’s unavoidable on social media platforms can be distracting,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Words in This Story

poll –n. a study in which people are asked their opinions in an effort to find out what the public thinks about an issue

psychosomatic –adj. related to mental or emotional problems rather than physical sickness

distracting –adj. something that pulls attention from one subject and places it on another

isolated –adj. separated from others

pandemic –n. when a disease spreads very quickly affecting many people over a very large area or throughout the world

grandmother –n. the mother of someone’s mother

headache –n. pain in the head

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