'Very concerning' increase in depression of young adults as result of COVID

More than half of 22-year-old women were classified as depressed
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

06.56 20 Jun 2022

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'Very concerning' increase in...

'Very concerning' increase in depression of young adults as result of COVID

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

06.56 20 Jun 2022

Share this article

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in poorer mental health among young adults.

New data from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) shows that four-in-ten 22-year-old men and 55% of 22-year-old women were classified as depressed.

These were much higher figures than two years previously - when 22% of men and 31% of women were depressed.


The report used data from the Growing Up in Ireland COVID-19 survey, carried out in December 2020.

Professor Emer Smyth, one of the report authors, told Breakfast Briefing this is likely to add more pressure to support services.

"We had expected that, given the level of disruption to young adults employment, education, and social activities that we would see an increase.

"But the scale of the increase is very concerning - especially given there were already waiting lists for mental health supports and services prior to the pandemic".

Men vs women

Over 80% had less face-to-face contact with friends than before the pandemic, while reduced contact with friends was linked to increased depression for young women.

The factors protecting against depression were different for men and women.

For men, being involved in team sports before the pandemic and confiding in a boy/girlfriend served as protective factors.

While for women, supportive peer relationships and positive family relationships helped to protect against depression.

Prof Smyth says relationships seemed to be key.

"We saw that a significant group saw their boyfriend or girlfriend less than before, but that wasn't as marked as for friends.

"So some people seemed to keep that contact up.

"We found that young men who had confided in a girlfriend or boyfriend prior to the pandemic, that they fared better in terms of mental health.

"But both men and women lost out by reduced contact with their partners".

However alcohol consumption also dropped as a result of reduced socialising.

"What we found with this group compared to other age groups [was] that they were actually drinking less", Prof Smyth explains.

"And that seemed to be because when we asked them at 20 'In what context did they drink', it was generally with friends.

"So almost like the disruption to that socialising with friends also impacted on their drinking.

"But we did find the small group that drank more alcohol had poorer mental health".

Education and work

Just before the pandemic hit, 63% of these 22-year-olds were in full-time education or training, and so shifted to remote learning.

The vast majority had the electronic devices they needed for remote learning and live online lectures/classes were offered by their institutions.

However, around half did not have access to adequate broadband and a quiet place to study - and less than one-third received regular feedback on their work.

Some 57% found it difficult to study while learning remotely and this was linked to a greater risk of depression.

More than half of those working - either full-time or while studying - when the pandemic hit lost their job.

The ESRI says the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) "served to shelter" these young adults from financial strain.

But losing a full-time job was linked to poorer mental health, especially for young men.

And only one-in-six of the young adults started working remotely or increased the hours they worked from home.

Anyone affected by issues raised in this article can contact The Samaritans on 116-123 or Pieta House on 1800-247-247

Main image: Women hug on a couch in Cork in August 2011. Picture by: Wavebreak Media ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

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Alcohol Consumption Breakfast Briefing Depression ESRI Economic And Social Research Institute Education Growing Up In Ireland Mental Health PUP Professor Emer Smyth Work Young Adults

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