Younger generations suffered from worst mental illness during COVID-19

Younger generations suffered from worst mental illness during COVID-19
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Mental illness was more common in younger generations compared to older age groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study by University College London (UCL) explored how five different birth cohort studies which followed participants born in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1989-90 and 2000-02 coped with mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team used data from 26,772 people living across the UK to understand how often they experienced common symptoms of depression and anxiety at three different points during the first year of the pandemic: May 2020, September/October 2020, and February/March 2021.

The findings are published in Psychological Medicine.

How were different generations affected by mental illness?

Following a review of 26,772 people’s data, the researchers looked for any links between birth year and mental illness.

The study found that symptoms of depression in the first months of the pandemic were higher than anticipated in adults in their late teens and early twenties. This was the case even when the generational differences in mental illness was considered before the pandemic.

Study lead author, Dr Darío Moreno-Agostino (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies), said: “The overall number of people reporting common mental health problems has been rising for decades but this much sharper increase among young people is really unexpected. If we assumed that the gap in mental ill health between younger and older people stayed the same over time, we wouldn’t have expected to see depression levels like those we found among the youngest generation for another 22 years.”

The study revealed that generational differences in anxiety levels were noted during the first year of the pandemic. Whilst overall symptoms of depression and anxiety rose across all generations during the first year of the pandemic, a more substantial increase was seen in anxiety levels in younger adults widening the generational gap further.

What other inequalities contribute to poor mental health?

The researchers accounted for other factors that could contribute to inequalities between generations such as the participants’ prior health, socioeconomic circumstances, their psychological distress and life satisfaction before the pandemic.

Across the generations, women and those experiencing financial difficulties were found to be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems during the first year of the pandemic. The researchers also added that the results of their study highlight the continued relevance of measures to support the mental health of the most vulnerable groups across society.

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