Online program helps young adults through pandemic

Experts at UW Medicine share tips to boost well-being and resilience, including an online tool for 18- to 29-year-olds.

Young adults ages 18 to 34, known as "Gen Z," have reported the greatest declines in their mental health since the pandemic began.

In a survey of 3,409 adults for the American Psychological Association, 34% of Gen Z adults reported worsening mental health, followed by millennials (19%), boomers (12%) and older adults (8%).

Gen Z adults are the most likely to report experiencing common symptoms of depression. More than 7 in 10 in the survey noted that in the prior two weeks they felt so tired that they sat around and did nothing (75%), felt very restless (74%), found it hard to think properly or concentrate (73%), felt lonely (73%), or felt miserable or unhappy (71%).

These statistics are reflected in the stories of families all around us.

Christine Lee, a research professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said she spoke with several people in her community who told her about the challenges young people in their lives were having during this time.  For example, one told her how her daughter moved home recently from an out-of-state college. Her daughter had been upset, crying a lot, missing her friends and her boyfriend, and struggling with the transition to online classes.

Lee, associate director for the UW Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behavior, and her colleagues wanted to help. They had been tracking loneliness since January and saw it increase during the pandemic.

They created a program called Check in With Yourself. It starts with a short survey and then provides personalized information that offers reflection for young adults on how they are feeling and coping during this unprecedented time.  The program provides personalized strategies for managing stress, increasing social support, and addressing alcohol use that may lead to additional risks during the pandemic. The survey is free, publicly available, anonymous, and appropriate for young adults 18-29 years of age. So far, over 900 people have taken it.

“Using data we have collected from over 2,000 young adults in the local area, the program highlights that the feelings and concerns most young adults have during the pandemic are shared by most other people,” said Lee. “As the holidays approach, and as we continue into new restrictions because increasing COVID rates, it is important to be kind to ourselves and check in with ourselves and loved ones.”  

Jennifer Cadigan, an acting assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is part of the team. She offers the following tips for well-being and resilience:

  1. Acknowledge and normalize your emotions during this time, such as feeling scared, anxious, or lonely. You aren’t alone. Many young adults are also feeling lonely and isolated during this time.  
  2. If you are feeling lonely, there are things you can do to improve your mood. Stay connected socially. Identify who’s in your social support network and reach out to those people. This could be a text, e-mail, or phone call.
  3. Reflect on the positive things in your life, no matter how big or small. Even if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed during this time, try focusing on one small thing that brings you happiness.  
  4. To help manage stress, think of what you can control and then engage in this activity. This could be connecting with others, going for a walk, or doing a hobby.  
  5. If you choose to drink:
    * If you do drink alcohol, try to consume no more than three drinks in an occasion. 
    * If you’re drinking because you feel stressed, try something else as a “stress-reliever,” like talking with a friend, watching a TV show, or taking a walk.  
    * If you’re drinking for social reasons, think about how you can connect with friends in a physically distant way that doesn’t involve alcohol. Maybe a game night, movie night, or another fun, physically distant activity? 

“Remember that all of the emotions you may be feeling are normal,” said Cadigan. “However, if you are struggling with these feelings, or if they feel too overwhelming, reach out to someone for assistance."

 Bobbi Nodell -, 206.543.7129 

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Tags:psychiatry & behavioral healthmental health

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