Young people report higher levels of stress and anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic compared to those over the age of 60 despite their significantly lower risk of dying from the virus itself, a new study has found.
Levels of generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder were found to be highest and most common among those under 25, while those over 60 reported the lowest levels for both disorders.
Those numbers are revealed in new research published in early September by Dr. Izunwanne Nwachuchwu of the University of Calgary, alongside researchers from the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services. The study shows that 96% of people under 25 reported experiencing moderate or high levels of stress due to the pandemic, compared to 68% of people over 60.
The study also found that 65% of people under 25 said they likely had generalized anxiety disorder, while only 23% of people over 60 said the same.
The results, which were compiled in an online survey of 8,200 people in Alberta of different age groups who subscribe to the province’s Text4Hope program – a free line of text-based mental health support – are worrying. but not surprisingly for youth counselors, who say young people already struggling with heightened levels of anxiety even before the pandemic.
“Young people have increased their anxiety in general and they have gone through incredible transitions since dealing with the pandemic,” said Rebecca Shields, who heads the York Region chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“Places where young people can traditionally be included and belong, such as schools and social groups, have been cut out, especially for vulnerable young people,” added Shields.
Erin O’Rourke, a trained psychotherapist in Toronto specializing in adolescent mental health, said the increased anxiety among young people was in part related to the importance of social media in young people’s lives and how they are more. likely to be bombarded with news. of the pandemic compared to those who are older.
This is echoed by a 2019 study in the United States, which found that 90% of people aged 18 to 29 were active on social media, compared with 45% of those over 65.
Researchers in Alberta highlighted this as a possible factor in increased anxiety, stating in their study that high rates of consumption of information about the virus were associated with increased levels of distress.
O’Rourke added that those over 60 have likely lived through generations of hardship and trauma, making them more resilient to the effects of a global pandemic.
They also tend to have more stability in their lives and aren’t as worried about how the pandemic will affect their future both economically and socially, Shields said.
Shields, who runs a mobile mental health clinic for young people in the Simcoe and York areas, said privacy and security were big concerns for customers as the pandemic forced everyone to retreat to their homes. them, where some feel in danger. The problem is so widespread that the Canadian Mental Health Association bought headphones through grants for young people who needed more privacy, as the pandemic forced them to virtually see their counselor or therapist.
“It’s not like they have a job or have their own home,” Shields said, adding that young people have less control over their lives, safety and security than working adults or children. elderly people who have a pension fund.
These struggles were visible to Shields as the pandemic progressed. Demand for CMHA’s services has increased, she said, and more young people have started seeking help for serious crises like suicide risk and increased substance use. She added that she was concerned that the anxiety level would increase now that school has returned.
The results “are both interesting and curious,” the researchers said in their study, given that deaths from COVID-19 infections have primarily affected older people in Canada, who have higher rates of health problems. underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illnesses.
But the researchers also point out that most of the seniors who responded to the survey likely did not live in long-term care facilities, where more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have occurred. These research limitations, they added, should be taken into account when interpreting mental health findings in older adults.
According to the researchers, the survey’s margin of error is 1.2 percentage points.
O’Rourke and Shields said the findings indicate the need for a serious focus on youth mental health, both during the duration of the pandemic and beyond. This includes ensuring rapid access to specialized mental health services for young people.
Shields added that policy measures should go beyond mental health supports, but employment and economic sustainability programs for younger people as well, as social factors have a huge impact on the population. anxiety and depression that young people are currently facing.
Nwachuchwu and her fellow researchers wrote that their findings should be used to plan services for mental health needs during COVID-19. They said more jurisdictions should explore services like Text4Hope which can offer free and accessible support via SMS, regardless of where young people are.
Failure to act, warns Shields, will have dire consequences.
“Mental health, depression, increased anxiety, and social isolation are all risk factors for suicide,” Sheilds said. “These are preventable deaths, and we cannot allow our young people to die.”
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