“Your son is in one of the age groups with which we are most concerned,” said Dr. Laura Murray, senior scientist for Johns Hopkins University at the start of our interview. Her words captured my full attention.
“We are concerned with young adults in upper high school, college and just out of college. Covid fundamentally disrupted the developmental process for these young adults,” Murray explained.
Emerging adulthood is a critical time when young adults are exploring their identity as it relates to worldview, work and love, psychologists tell us. During this time, they are developing the qualities necessary to become self-sufficient, engage in mature, committed relationships; and obtain the necessary life skills for their adult years. Covid is profoundly affecting the mental health of today’s young adults, according to the CDC. The pandemic has disrupted young adults’ social, emotional and mental well-being. Trauma faced during this developmental stage may have long-term consequences across their lifespan. Such disappointments can lead to isolation, depression and suicidal ideation.
One in four people aged 18 to 24 seriously contemplated suicide in June a new study reports. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Approximately 43 percent of the student population within the educational system has been diagnosed with or treated for depression prior to the pandemic, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Engaging young adults
Traditionally, parents may not communicate as much with young adults when they are away at college. Covid has changed the rules when it comes to college. Some young adults are on campus taking classes in their dorm rooms. Others are at home with their parents.
“College in the midst of Covid requires caregivers to find new ways of engaging with these young adults as adults,” Murray remarked. “The biggest warning sign during Covid is dramatic changes in behavior. We are encouraging parents to find out with what’s the norm for their young adult. Then they can talk about how they are coping in the midst of Covid.”
Taking Murray’s advice, I asked my own son, Ethan, a sophomore studying video game design and cyber security.
“Online college is really impersonal. A difference exists between going to class and being out of class, in my experience. Online classes are not optimal,” Ethan responded. “Covid has made the college experience a bit more disappointing. The social aspect is so much harder to pursue.”
Validating the feelings of these young adults is key, according to Murray.
“These young adults are experiencing real loss, such as losing their senior year, paying for an additional year of schooling, or losing their graduation. Parents need to ask about the feelings these young adults are experiencing,” Murray said.
A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study reports 13 percent of the students who responded have delayed their graduation. About 40 percent have lost a job offer, internship or job. Murray recommends caregivers be transparent with their young adult. “Be candid about your own difficulties related to college. Authentically share with them your frustrations with Covid as well,” she said.
How you adapt in the face of adversity and trials is key. Resilience involves not only bouncing back from these difficult experiences, but it also involves profound personal growth. Murray believes that parents can educate their young adult about resilience through Covid. Learning how to accept and deal with difficulties is a valuable life lesson for these young adults to learn.
“Through discipline and practice, we know that we can create new grooves in our brain on how to think about difficult situations like Covid,” Murray reminded me.
“Despite the difficulty I’ve experienced in finding social opportunities, I think we have been fortunate. I am trying to maintain a constructive perspective,” Ethan concluded.
Wrestling with how to assist the young adult in your life? Start the conversation. Tell them how much they matter to you. Help them understand that you are learning about what resilience means along with them. Together we can do this.
Danei Edelen is the president for the NAMI Brown County Ohio affiliate. She is a mental health advocate for the Brown County Board of Mental Health & Addiction Services. For more information on NAMI Brown County Ohio, call 937-378-3504 ext. 102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.