Depression and anxiety may impact young adults twice as much as teens, Harvard survey finds

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While rising rates of depression and anxiety among American teens have gotten attention, young adults may be struggling even more with those conditions, according to a new report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Approximately 36% of young adults said they struggle with anxiety, compared to 18% of teens.

Regarding depression, 29% of young adults said they experience it, compared to 15% of teens.

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These findings came from a national survey sent to young adults ages 18–25, teens and parents in December 2022. 

The results were published last week in the report, “On Edge: Understanding and Preventing Young Adults’ Mental Health Challenges,” from Making Caring Common (MCC), a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Approximately 36% of young adults said they struggle with anxiety, compared to 18% of teens, according to a new report. (iStock)

“Young adulthood can be a time of great growth and possibility,” said Richard Weissbourd, lead author of the report and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a press release from the university. 

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“But far too many young adults told us that they feel on edge, lonely and directionless, and that they worry about financial security,” he added. “Many are ‘achieving to achieve’ and find little meaning in either school or work.”

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Weissbourd said he was somewhat surprised by the findings.

“I thought young adults’ rates of depression and anxiety would be high, but I didn’t think it would be twice as high as the rate for teens,” he said. “The extent of the difference was surprising.”

Stressors faced by young adults

The young adults who responded to the survey shared specific challenges that are driving their depression and anxiety.

The most common was a lack of “meaning or purpose,” cited by nearly 58% of the survey respondents. 

“At the core, humans are social beings — we need human emotional contact to thrive.”

Half of young adults reported “not knowing what to do with my life,” which contributed to their mental health struggles, the report said.

Financial concerns and pressure to achieve were also named as culprits, affecting 56% and 51% of young adults, respectively.

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“Far too many young adults told us that they feel on edge, lonely, directionless — and that they worry about financial security,” the report author said. (iStock)

Forty-five percent of young adults said they had a “sense that things are falling apart.”

For 44% of respondents, lack of meaningful relationships was a key driver and loneliness was a factor for 34%.

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“We found high rates of loneliness and high rates of not mattering to other people,” Weissbourd said. “I think the lack of purpose is in part driven by feeling disconnected and lonely.”

Finally, social and political issues contributed to anxiety and depression — 42% blamed gun violence in schools for mental health issues, 34% chalked it up to climate change and 30% cited incompetence or corruption of political leaders, per the report.

“One thing that came up in our data is the amount of frightening news … There’s this feeling like the world is falling apart.”

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