Young adults twice as likely as teens to suffer from anxiety and depression, study finds

Many young adults say financial worries negatively impact their mental health.

October 24, 2023, 2:25 PM

While there have been warnings about the state of children and teenagers' mental health over the past several years, a new report says another age demographic is suffering even more.

Adults ages 18 to 25 are nearly twice as likely as teenagers to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to data released Tuesday by the Making Caring Common project, an initiative of Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

The project's survey of more than 700 young adults found that more than half said financial worries and the pressure to achieve had "negatively influenced their mental health."

In addition, 58% of respondents said they lacked "meaning or purpose in their lives."

Dr. Richard Weissbourd, a psychotherapist on the faculty of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, who directed the study, told ABC News' Deborah Roberts that young adults are experiencing a "high rate of loneliness."

"I think it's a world that seems off the rails to them. I think it's unclarity about their job prospects," Weissbourd said of the obstacles young people face. "And I think social media turbocharged us all of this."

In addition to finding that young adults lack meaning in their lives, the survey also found that 34% of respondents reported feeling loneliness and 44% reported feeling a sense of not mattering to others.

Audrey McNeal, a 21-year-old college student studying political science, told Roberts that while she and other people her age may have more access to connection than ever thanks to the internet, it's not the same emotionally as connecting with people in-person.

"I remember my parents telling me about bowling leagues and being able to go to the mall and then doing things like that in real life," said McNeal. "But now when you meet someone, you exchange Instagrams."

McNeal said that she and other young people around her age feel the pressure of "a lot of things that can make us overwhelmed and stressed out."

For Daria Paulis, a 23-year-old who works in a research lab, that pressure includes figuring out logistics like where she can afford to live.

Audrey, left, Daria, center, and Tarun are young people in their 20s who spoke with ABC News about their mental health.
ABC News

Tarun Amasa, who is also in his early 20s, said he feels the pressure of trying to start his life in a time when "everyone is super ambitious."

"Everyone is super ambitious and that creates a little bit of a toxic environment where people feel like it's a very comparative space," he told ABC News.

Despite the statistics and the odds that young people face, Weissbourd said it is not all bad news for this next generation.

One benefit, he said, is that even with their high rates of mental health struggles, young adults are more willing to speak out about the issue of mental health, which makes a difference.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5% of adults age 18 and older report regular feelings of depression, while around 12% report regular feelings of anxiety or worry.

"I think this is a very psychologically aware generation," Weissbourd said. "They're very articulate about their feelings, and they may break the stigma about mental health that we have in this country."

The young people Roberts spoke with said they too have "major hope" in their generation.

"It's how people make connections, right," Paulis said of speaking openly about mental health. "It's like, 'You have anxiety? Oh my gosh, me too.'"

Added Amasa, "Everyone really is more used to showing their emotions on their sleeve. I think that's a really good step in the right direction."

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.