Mental health of young adults badly impacted by pandemic

Depression rates rose significantly

Deborah Condon

June 21, 2022

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  • The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in poorer mental health among young adults, particularly young women, new research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

    According to the findings, in December 2020, 41% of men and 55% of women aged 22 were classified as depressed. Among the same cohort two years earlier, when they were aged 20, 22% of men and 31% of women were classified as depressed.

    The researchers said that this decline in mental health reflected the disruption to employment, education and day-to-day/social activities.

    Before the pandemic, 63% of 22-year-olds were in full-time education or training and so had to move to remote learning. While the vast majority had the electronic devices they needed for this, around half did not have access to adequate broadband and a quiet place to study, while half found it difficult to study while learning remotely and this was linked to a greater risk of depression.

    In contrast, those who had more interaction with their institution and the resources they needed fared better.

    Almost 60% of those who had been working before the pandemic, either full time or part time while studying, lost their job. While receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) served to shelter young adults from financial strain following the loss of a job, losing a full-time job was linked to poorer mental health, especially among young men.

    The pandemic also had a major impact on social activities, with over 80% of young adults having less face-to-face contact with their friends compared to before the pandemic, even though restrictions had begun to ease at the time of the survey.

    Reduced contact with friends was linked to increased depression among young women.

    Most young adults who had been involved in sport and cultural activities before the pandemic also reported spending less time on these activities during the pandemic. Spending less time taking part in sport and less time outdoors during the pandemic were linked to higher depression rates among men.

    The research also noted that while some less healthy behaviours, such as alcohol consumption, declined for a large group of young adults, other behaviours, such as eating junk foods/sweets, increased for many.

    According to the findings, the factors protecting against depression were different for men and women. For men, being involved in team sports before the pandemic and confiding in a partner served as protective factors. For women, supportive peer relationships and positive family relationships helped to protect against depression.

    The researchers said that the scale of mental health difficulties among young adults, particularly young women, is a major concern. They noted that it is too early to say how long these effects will last but they warned that there appears to be a considerable risk of a longer-term scarring effect for some groups of young adults.

    The scale of difficulties among young adults will place considerable demands on community mental health services, they suggested.

    “These findings show the stark impact of the pandemic on young adults’ mental health. They experienced massive disruption to their education, employment and day-to-day lives and their rates of depression increased as a result. The study shows the importance of providing adequate mental health supports for young adults as a matter of urgency,” commented Emer Smyth, one of the authors into a report on the findings.

    Launching the report, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, acknowledged that during the pandemic, young people “missed out on a lot of the normal rites of passages, social interactions and transitions that would normally mark their early twenties”.

    “This report clearly shows the cost of this disruption to their mental health and wellbeing. The findings in the report will continue to inform policy and services across Government, aimed at improving the lives of young adults,” he said.

    The report, Disrupted Transitions? Young Adults and the Covid-19 Pandemic, can be viewed here.

    © Medmedia Publications/MedMedia News 2022