The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge emotional toll on our community, with young adults facing mental health challenges in unprecedented numbers.

Today, one in five adults in our country experience a mental illness. Meanwhile, in December, the U.S Surgeon General issued a rare report, warning about the devastating mental health effects the pandemic has had on our youngest people. The report found that emergency room visits for teen mental health increased 31% since the start of the pandemic. And in Baltimore, 55% of Jewish young adults reported they were experiencing emotional or mental difficulties that adversely affected their daily lives.

We spoke with Claire Fultz, Director of Mental Health at Jewish Community Services about the impact of the pandemic on the young adult population, how we are responding and what more needs to be done.

What has contributed to the surge in mental health issues among young adults?
There were many things contributing to this mental health crisis. A colleague of mine referred to this generation as the “Great Unlucky” given that young adults have already experienced several traumatic events including terrorist attacks, the recession, school shootings, living through upheaval in social and racial justice, and now the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Those aside, this is a challenging time anyway as young adults enter and navigate the “adult” world, historically depending on additional support, resources and connection through this period of transition. People in this age range, 18-29, are going through a period of “emerging adulthood” when young adults would otherwise be exploring their identity, many separating from their parents, exerting their independence and coming into their own.

Instead, throughout the pandemic, their social lives were upended and those opportunities for personal growth and development which are so crucial during this time in people’s lives were disrupted. Young adults faced an increased sense of isolation, loneliness and lack of connection, and they missed important milestones such as graduations, weddings and opportunities to get together, meet new people and date.

Many found themselves remaining in or returning to their childhood homes, delaying moves such as a first apartment or dorm or college or vocational experience, while simultaneously facing a need for independence.

For many, connection, if any, was virtual or through social media, which brings inherent risks in and of itself given our knowledge of risks for mental health issues inherent with heavy social media use by young adults.

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The Associated Contributors

The Associated Contributors are writers from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.