Young Adults Report Largest Increase in Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression, According to CDC

The new evidence released Friday by the CDC is based on worsening well-documented mental health trends amid the pandemic, especially among young adults. However, the researchers did not determine the cause of the symptoms and suggested that seasonal-related depression might influence the results.

The federal health agency specifically found a significant increase in adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders during the seven days prior to the surveys (36.4% to 41.5%), while it also noted an increase in adults who needed therapy but who did not receive these services. over a four-week period (9.2% to 11.7%). The findings were derived from responses to the so-called Household Pulse Survey conducted by the CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau between August 2020 and February 2021, which indicated that younger adults ages 18 to 29 years and those with little education were the most affected.


To assess depression and anxiety, respondents were asked if they felt nervous, uncontrollable worry, little interest in activities, or hopeless. Other questions probed prescription drugs, therapy, or unmet need for therapy.

“Between January 20, 2021 and February 1, 2021, more than two in five adults aged ≥18 years experienced symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder during the past 7 days,” the CDC researchers wrote in the findings published Friday. “One in four adults who experienced these symptoms reported needing but not receiving mental health counseling or therapy.”

The report also documented a “significant increase” in adults reporting taking prescription drugs or receiving mental health counseling, from 22.4% to 25.0%. The overall data are limited because they were self-reported and results were not confirmed by practitioners, and the authors wrote: “Questions about mental health symptoms can be predictive, but do not necessarily reflect a clinical diagnosis.”


The report noted that the findings reflected previously reported trends of worsening mental health among younger adults at the start of the pandemic, but the new findings show that the trends continued to worsen until early 2021.

As mentioned, the study authors were unable to definitively link the increase in symptoms to pandemic-related events, such as trade restrictions and closures, because the report did not examine the cause of the symptoms. With this, seasonal affective disorder or worsening mental health in the darker and colder winter months could play a role in changing symptoms, according to the report.


However, since the onset of the pandemic, expanded telehealth has aimed to mitigate deterioration in mental health and compensate for closed in-person services, and many mental health counselors offering virtual care expressed a dramatic increase in patients during the pandemic.

“Continuous near-real-time monitoring of mental health trends by demographic characteristics is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trends could be used to assess the impact of strategies that address mental health status and care of patients. adults during the pandemic and to guide interventions for groups that are disproportionately affected. “

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