Study: Virus takes a mental toll on young people

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A FIRST-of-its-kind study, which compared data before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows there’s been a spike in severe psychological distress in young Australian adults under 35. 

The ANU analysis tracked 3155 Australians and found that the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds experiencing severe psychological distress increased from 14 per cent in February 2017 to 22.3 per cent in April 2020.

Severe distress for adults aged 25-34 years old climbed from 11.5 per cent to 18.0 per cent.

“Young Australians aged 18 to 24 and those aged 25 to 34 are significantly worse off in terms of mental health than those who are older,” says associate Prof Ben Edwards, from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods.

Associate Prof Ben Edwards.

The survey also showed people in the US had higher levels of psychological distress than in Australia, however, younger Australian adults had similar distress to Americans the same age.

“While the benefits of social distancing and lockdown have been largely to do with physical health, the downside has been the impacts on young people’s mental health,” associate Prof Edwards says.

“Reductions in employment opportunities are having a significant impact on Millennials and Generation Z. They don’t have the kind of financial buffer older Australians have.

“This will have a long-lasting impact on young people’s lives. We need to consider what we can do to address the needs of our youth.”

But, the study does show that Australians are more hopeful about the future than people living in America.

In Australia, 59 per cent of people reported being very hopeful compared to 52 per cent in the US.

“Almost two-thirds of Australians say they feel hopeful about the future at least three to four days of the week,” associate Prof Edward says.

“Feeling hopeful can soften some negative mental health impacts.”

The survey’s findings are available online.

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