I recently attended the COVID-adjusted wedding of a young couple from church. Unlike the wedding they initially envisioned – being walked down the aisle by their parents in a church filled with loved ones -- the wedding instead occurred outside with few people present. All attenders, even the bride, groom, and pastor, wore masks. The couple walked themselves down the aisle because their parents couldn’t cross state lines to attend the wedding due to quarantine. Family members watched the ceremony online and some got kicked off the internet halfway through it. Though the young couple walked through their COVID-wedding with poise and grace, this is one example of the changed life plans and losses many young adults have experienced this year due to the pandemic.
During the past seven months, due to COVID-19, Americans in all age groups have experienced increased stress and uncertainty. Businesses have closed; adults have lost incomes; nursing homes have reduced visits; kids are wearing masks to school or studying online. Churches are meeting outside or on zoom. The need for social distancing has caused many people to feel isolated and alone.
It is not surprising that during this time depression has tripled in all age groups. But young adults (18-24) are struggling in even greater numbers. Depression has quadrupled among this age group and anxiety has tripled. In a recent study, highlighted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 25.5 % of young adults (18-24) reported seriously considering suicide in the past 30 days. Why? And how can loved ones and churches support young adults during this time?
A key difference between young adults and older adults is that young adults’ independent lives are just beginning. Unlike older adults who have survived previous economic and relationship downturns, young adults don’t always have this life experience. They are in college or first “real” jobs. Socializing with friends and significant others is key to life. They spent high school looking toward college or job training, envisioning they’d soon get that great job, fall in love, and live the American dream. As the economy trembles around us, internships and jobs temporarily dry up, and social distancing makes maintaining friendships harder, many young adults don’t have experience to help them maneuver through these struggles. Many also don’t know that seeking support for depression and anxiety is important and helpful.
Loved ones, peers, and churches can support young adults to reduce their risks of depression and anxiety:
- Ask how the pandemic is affecting them.
- Listen non-judgementally.
- Acknowledge that the struggles and losses are real, and that feeling overwhelmed, fearful, frustrated, uncertain, or lonely are common and understandable during this time.
- Provide hope that things will get better and life will move forward.
- For anyone of any age experiencing hopelessness, feeling suicidal, or overwhelmed with depression or anxiety, help them connect with a mental health counselor. Make it clear seeking support is a strong and reasonable choice, not a sign of weakness.
- Encourage safe social and spiritual connections.
- Assure them we are all in this together and they are not alone.
Keep in touch. Journey together through this tough time.