Harvard Study Finds Higher Rates of Depression and Anxiety among Young Adults than among Teens

November 2, 2023

A study from Harvard's Graduate School of Education's Making Caring Common Project has found that in December 2022, young adults experienced depression and anxiety at nearly twice the rate of teenagers.

The study, titled On Edge: Understanding and Preventing Young Adults' Mental Health Challenges, found that in December 2022, approximately 36% of young adults reported struggling with anxiety, compared to 18% of teens; and that at the same time, 29% of young adults reported experiencing depression, compared to 15% of teens. In this study, young adults are considered to be those from ages 18 to 25 years old.

Top drivers of young adults' mental health challenges, as found in the report, include:

  • A lack of meaning, purpose, and direction
  • Nearly three out of five young adults (58%) reported that they lacked "meaning or purpose" in their lives in the previous month. Half of young adults reported that their mental health was negatively influenced by "not knowing what to do with my life."
  • Financial worries and achievement pressure
  • More than half of young adults reported that financial worries (56%) and achievement pressure (51%) were negatively impacting their mental health.
  • A perception that the world is unraveling
  • Forty-five percent (45%) of young adults reported that a general "sense that things are falling apart" was impairing their mental health.
  • Relationship deficits
  • Forty-four percent (44%) of young adults reported a sense of not mattering to others and 34% reported loneliness.
  • Social and political issues
  • Forty-two percent (42%) reported the negative influence on their mental health of gun violence in schools, 34% cited climate change, and 30% cited worries that political leaders are incompetent or corrupt.

Richard Weissbourd, Lead Author of the report, Faculty Director of Making Caring Common, and Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was quoted in a press release saying, "Young adulthood can be a time of great growth and possibility . . . But, far too many young adults told us that they feel on edge, lonely, directionless, and that they worry about financial security. Many are 'achieving to achieve' and find little meaning in either school or work."

The report also includes suggestions for promoting young adults' mental health and mitigating their emotional challenges, including:

  • Cultivating meaning and purpose in young people, including by engaging them in caring for others and service.
  • Supporting young people in developing gratifying and durable relationships.
  • Helping young people experience their lives as more than the sum of their achievements.

Click here to read more on this story, click here to access the report itself, and click here to access the relevant press release from the Making Caring Common Project.

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