Anxiety, Loneliness, and Hopelessness

COVID-19 and its Impact on Mental Health of Teens and Young Adults

By Robert L. Johnson, MD, FAAP
The Sharon and Joseph L. Muscarelle Endowed Dean
Professor, Pediatrics
Director, Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
Interim Dean
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Since the emergence of COVID-19, our way of life has been upended. More than one million people in the United States, alone, have been infected by the virus, with tens of thousands dying from it. Tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits to pay their bills and stave off financial ruin. And political leaders, for the sake of “flattening the curve,” have implemented strict guidelines that promote “social distancing” and staying home.

With the uncertainty, stress, and social restrictions that have accompanied COVID-19, it is no wonder that teenagers and young adults—who have endured school closures, rescinded job offers, and isolation from their friends—are expressing feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness.

In fact, in a recent SurveyMonkey poll, 80 percent of teens said they were following news about the coronavirus closely and their concern is high. In addition, 61 percent of the teens surveyed expressed fear that they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus, while 63 percent are concerned about the effect the virus will have on their family’s ability to earn money. The survey also revealed that 42 percent of teens reported feeling “more lonely than usual.” Furthermore, teenagers of color are more likely to say they are worried that they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus and about the potential economic effect on their family, the survey showed. Hispanic teenagers are especially concerned about the financial effect with nearly nine in 10 Hispanic respondents saying they are worried about the impact on their family’s ability to make a living, the survey stated.

“Social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 can be especially hard for teens, who may feel cut off from their friends,” notes the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Many also face big letdowns as graduations, proms, sports seasons, college visits, and other long-planned events are cancelled or postponed.”

Young adults are also voicing their concerns about the impact COVID- 19 is having on their lives. In a recent BuzzFeed article entitled “Generation Free Fall,” twentysomethings expressed hopelessness about their future, frustration over the added burden of helping parents and siblings, and worry about being “stuck in limbo,” among other things.