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Under Pressure: How Social Media, Drugs, and the Changing Landscape of Sexuality Are

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It’s hard to overstate how much the pandemic is altering the lives of young adults. School closures, remote learning and work, and loss of income and jobs are just a few of the pandemic’s ripple effects that have exacerbated mental health challenges among a vulnerable demographic.

Since the onset of COVID-19, 56 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 report symptoms of anxiety or depression.

— Kaiser Family Foundation

Since the onset of COVID-19, 56 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 report symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), with Gen Z members reporting the highest levels of stress compared to other generations, reports the APA. And while the pandemic may have temporarily restricted youths’ access to some substances, the KFF report says young adults are also 12 percent likelier than other age groups to report substance abuse.

“The pandemic has shaken up teens’ and young adults’ ability to individualize and develop,” says Courtney Tracy, PsyD, a 31-year-old licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, and social media influencer based in Laguna Beach, California. “Without this ability, all kinds of mental health struggles come up, like shame, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, anger, and confusion.”

These challenges emphasize how crucial it is for youths to have a strong support network to strengthen their self-esteem and help them cope, but research also shows that today’s young adults, more than other age groups, struggle to find community: A 2020 Cigna survey found that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents sometimes or always feel alone.

“The rise of loneliness is a big stressor that has impacted this generation,” says Kojo Sarfo, DNP, a 28-year-old psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and social media influencer based in Los Angeles. “A lot of us are isolated away from our loved ones. It’s challenging to have a sense of community and feel connected when we rely exclusively on technology for that connection.”

RELATED: Protecting Our Mental Health While We Ride Out the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dr. Tracy adds that the pressure to appear “okay” on social media has fortunately not been too intense during the pandemic — in fact, young people found community in struggle — but other challenges have emerged. “New pressures include developing a sense of self while locked in your home, maintaining an interest in education, and keeping up grades while shifting from online to in-person instruction,” she says. “This generation will never be what they would have been had the pandemic not happened, for better or worse.”

RELATED: 69 Top Self-Care Tips for Taking Care of You During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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