Young Adults and Their Mental Health

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Though 31 years old is the average onset of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), some research suggests that symptoms (including subclinical presentations in teens) may occur long before the individual seeks treatment. In addition, GAD is one of the most commonly experienced psychiatric problems in children. It is, therefore, important to understand what young people think about GAD, and more broadly, how they perceive mental health issues overall.

Survey on Young Adult Mental Health

The Mental Health and Suicide Survey was an online survey to evaluate perceptions of mental health and suicide awareness conducted within the United States.

Harris Poll administered the survey, done on behalf of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, in August 2015.

Two thousand and twenty adults responded. Approximately 10% of the respondents (n = 198) were ages 18-25. The following summary of results highlights findings in this subgroup of ‘emerging adults’:

  • College-aged U.S. adults are more likely to have visited a mental health professional compared to older U.S. adults (18% vs. 11%), but less likely to have seen a primary care physician (53% vs 18%), within the past 12 months.
  • The vast majority of these emerging adults (87%) believe that mental health and physical health are equally important for their own health.
  • One in 10 (10%) view mental health as more important than physical health.
  • College-aged adults are more likely to view seeing a mental health professional as a sign of strength compared to older adults (60% vs. 35%).
  • However, nearly half (46%) of the younger adults view mental health care as something most people can’t afford and 33% view it as inaccessible or difficult to find for most people. 
  • Young adults are more likely to report that they have thought they may have had a mental disorder (65% vs. 45% of older adults), with 43% of respondents indicating a belief that they struggled with anxiety/GAD (vs. 24% of older adults). Thirteen percent of the young adult group reports that they may have had GAD.
  • Nearly half (45%) of the college-aged adults have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor/healthcare professional, with common diagnoses being depression (33%) and anxiety disorder (27%). Five percent of these young adults declared themselves as having been diagnosed with GAD.
  • Approximately half (51%) of the emerging adult group has been treated for a mental health condition. The most common types of treatment were in-person psychotherapy (29%) or prescription medication (28%). A small subset of individuals (6%) has tried alternative treatments such as yoga or meditation.
  • Anxiety symptoms are having a clear, negative impact on young adults. Among college-aged adults who have been employed in the past year, nearly one-quarter (23%) has missed work because of anxiety. [Notably, nearly one-third (31%) of this subgroup reported missing work days due to depression symptoms.]

With regard to suicide, the survey found that a clear majority of the college-aged respondents were aware that life stressors (for example, bullying or difficulties in close relationships) and mental health problems could increase a person’s risk of suicide. Yet many more of the young adults surveyed identified a mood disorder as a risk factor for suicide rather than an anxiety disorder (86% and 52%, respectively).

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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