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December 9, 2021

From Gen X to Gen Z: Pandemic stress, charted

Daily Briefing

    The stress of the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Americans of all ages, with different generations saying it has made certain parts of their lives more difficult, according to a new poll from MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

    Our take: How Covid-19 will impact behavioral health services

    How the pandemic has affected different generations

    For the poll, AP-NORC surveyed 3,764 people aged 13-56 between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19. The respondents included 2,683 members of Gen Z (ages 13-24), 668 millennials (ages 25-40), and 413 members of Gen X (ages 41-56).

    Overall, more than a third of respondents said uncertainty about the pandemic was a major source of stress, and 29% said fear of getting Covid-19 was a major source of stress. Other major areas of stress include family and personal relationships (34%) and, for adult respondents, personal finances (42%).

    In addition, the poll found that roughly half of respondents across all three generations had experienced greater difficulty having fun and maintaining their mental health. However, Gen Z respondents reported more difficulty with their careers and education, romantic lives, and friendships compared with millennial and Gen X respondents.

    According to Cora Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, pandemic-related stress may have hit Gen Z respondents especially hard because their brains are still developing.

    "It's this perfect storm where you have isolated learning, decreased social interactions with peers, and parents who are struggling with similar issues," Breuner said.

    Pandemic contributed to a 'devastating' youth mental health crisis, surgeon general suggests

    The poll came as U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Tuesday released an advisory on the "devastating" mental health crisis among young people—and as several other medical organizations as recently as October declared "a national emergency" in youth mental health, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Association.

    According to the advisory, the pandemic intensified mental health issues such as depression and anxiety that had already been on the rise in the United States. Specifically, the advisory found that self-reports of depression and anxiety among adolescents significantly increased during the pandemic. In addition, ED visits for mental health issues also increased, with visits for suicide attempts rising 51% for adolescent girls and 4% for adolescent boys from 2019 to 2021.

    In the advisory, Murthy described several complex reasons behind the rise of mental health issues among adolescents, including the effects of social media, climate change, income inequality, and racial injustice. Murthy also noted specific effects of the pandemic, writing that "unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and communities [during the pandemic] have exacerbated the unprecedented stresses."

    According to the Times, some researchers have hypothesized that the pandemic increased feelings of stress in young people in part because they have been isolated during a time when social connection is vital for healthy development.

    "To be sure, this isn't an issue we can fix overnight or with a single prescription," Murthy wrote in the advisory. "Ensuring healthy children and families will take an all-of society effort, including policy, institutional, and individual changes in how we view and prioritize mental health."

    "This is the moment to demand change," he added. (Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 12/7; Binkley/Fingerhut, Associated Press, 12/6; AP/NORC poll results, 12/6; Richtel, New York Times, 12/7; Chen, Axios, 12/7)

    How Covid-19 will impact behavioral health services

    Highest-priority behavioral health moves amid Covid-19 crisis

    strategy

    The Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly increasing the need for behavioral health services. But there are significant gaps and barriers that stand in the way of people getting the help they need. Download our take to learn how health systems can prioritize addressing the immediate needs of both staff and patients, especially those with preexisting behavioral health needs or comorbid conditions.

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