Helping Young Adults Struggling with Loss During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic has traumatized a nation, its impact on young adults has been particularly severe. From the loss of much-anticipated milestone celebrations to disruptions in education to the shutdown of sports seasons and the absence of valuable time spent with friends and family, the far-reaching effects have yet to fully emerge. At New Vitae Wellness and Recovery a wide range of services can support young adults who are struggling to cope with the emotional, academic, and social havoc the pandemic has wrought, and its negative impact on mental and behavioral health.

Through New Vitae’s Young Adult Services programs, we offer a strengths-based approach to managing behavioral health symptoms. With an emphasis on exploring educational, vocational, and independent living skills, New Vitae supports holistic care for every client and their family.

Numbers tell a disturbing story

According to a COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, more than half (56 percent) of adults ages 18 through 34 say they have at least sometimes felt isolated in the past month. For older Americans, that number is about 4 in 10. 

Other significant findings: 

  • One in 4 (25 percent) young adults rate their mental health as fair or poor, compared with 13 percent of older adults.
  • Only 39 percent of young adults rate their mental health as excellent or very good, compared to 56 percent of older adults.
  • Two out of 3 (67 percent) of young adults reported that they have felt unable to control the important things in life, compared to 50 percent of older Americans.
  • More than half (55 percent) of young adults say they have sometimes felt overwhelmed by stress, compared with 33 percent of older adults.

In a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, with 1 in 4 (25 percent) reporting increased substance use to deal with that stress and 1 in 4 (25 percent) reporting that they had seriously considered suicide.

The Healthy Minds Network conducted a survey and found that 8 out of 10 (80 percent) college students reported that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their mental health.

“The mental health impact of the pandemic is much larger on younger adults,” Dr. Shaker Saxena of The Harvard School of Public Health and a professor for the practice of global mental health courts, told ABC News. “The figures that we have from the U.S. suggest that almost two-thirds of the young adults have some symptoms of anxiety or depression or other psychological problems.”

The ongoing stress and uncertainty of the pandemic also have led to an increase in substance use disorders. By June 2020, 13 percent of Americans had reported starting or increasing substance use as a way to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alarmed by increasing numbers of drug overdoses across the country, the American Medical Association urged governors and state legislatures to take actions that would help address the escalating crisis.

“In addition to the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the nation’s opioid epidemic has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic. The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid- and other drug-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” the organization said in an advocacy brief. “More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder.”

Facing the Challenges

While social distancing is an important part of preventing the spread of COVID-19, young adults are paying a significant price for staying physically removed from their friends, family, co-workers and religious communities. As their lives have been upended, those in their late teens and early twenties often have had to switch to online learning when colleges and universities closed campuses, losing another connection to peers. Job losses and virtual job interviews when trying to find a job also pose obstacles for many young adults. Often, they report feelings of loneliness, fear and isolation. For those struggling with substance use disorders, the challenges can be even greater.

The accumulation of the loss of many life events during the pandemic – from birthdays, internships, graduations, vacations, campus life or even mourning the loss of a loved one through funeral rituals – has had a profound impact on young adults’ sense of well being.

It is important, experts agree, to help young people understand the need for social distancing and to support them with alternative ways to stay connected, such as virtual gatherings, phone calls and online meet-ups.  

Mental health professionals encourage college and university students to take advantage of counseling services offered by individual schools, as well as organizations such as the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a wide variety of resources available, including the NAMI HelpLine. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or

Missing Healthcare Needs

In addition to concerns around mental health needs, the pandemic also has caused some young adults to delay or skip meeting their healthcare needs. Doing so can mean missing early signs of illness, including indications of depression and anxiety. With many young adults accustomed to arranging routine check-ups at college, it’s more important than ever that young people either see their doctor in-person or via telemedicine. 

What You Can Do: Healthy Ways to Reduce Stress

  1. Make time to unwind
  2. Take care of your emotional health
  3. Take breaks from the news
  4. Take care of your body with exercise and a healthy diet
  5. Connect with a healthcare provider or counseling service if you’re feeling unusually depressed or anxious for more than a few days

Resources such as New Vitae’s Young Adult Services are available to support young people in multiple ways, including residential programs, personal care homes, and life skills development, among other services. New Vitae Wellness and Recovery has been providing services for young adults since 1996, after recognizing how limited the behavioral health options were for young adults aged 18 to 25. 

New Vitae applies a strengths-based approach to promote personal growth and achieve success through specialized mental health treatment supports. Our programs emphasize management of behavioral health symptoms while young adults explore educational, vocational, and independent living skill-building goals. Young adults are encouraged to build peer relationships and connect with the local community to develop their socialization skills further. To learn more about our young adult treatment programs, contact New Vitae Wellness and Recovery today at 610.928.5200.