If someone were to rank years from best to worst, 2020 will feature around the bottom, sitting comfortably somewhere between the beginning of World War II and The Great Depression. It was so confounding, that Oxford Dictionaries couldn’t even use one word to define it like they usually do. (“Climate emergency” was word of the year in 2019, and “toxic” took the title in 2018). Last year, they ended up choosing multiple words such as “lockdown” and “coronavirus.”
One of the defining themes of 2020 though, one they didn’t mention was, ”mental health.” According to researchers, Google searches for words like “anxiety” rose exponentially as COVID-19 hit our lives. Two months later, Google revealed that the word, “self-care” was its top search query.
Thousands of internet gigabytes have been spent on talking about COVID-19’s effect on everyone’s mental health, but the scale of the problem has been difficult to ascertain. A recent study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, published in the online journal Preventive Medicine took a stab at it and the results were staggering.
The researchers tried to quantify the relative impact of COVID-19 on our mental health compared to a ‘usual year’ like 2019. They found that the stress levels of Americans during the months of April and May last year were equivalent to the entirety of the stress they experienced in 2019.
“We found equal numbers of people experienced serious psychological distress over 30 days during the pandemic as did over an entire year prior to the pandemic,” Joshua Breslau, the study’s lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, said in a statement.
One of the key findings of the study was that the increase in stress was seen more in younger people.
According to him, this level is unlike any reaction to a disaster before. “Elevated psychological distress has been observed during prior disasters, but it has never before been seen as a persistent and complex stressor affecting the entire U.S. population,” Breslau said.
One of the key findings of the study was that the increase in stress was seen more in younger people. This defies conventional wisdom about COVID-19’s impact, where the most vulnerable including octogenarians, frontline healthcare workers and those with pre-existing conditions, aren’t in fact the most stressed part of our population. This indicates that the global economic meltdown that has followed COVID-19 is having a much more significant impact on people’s mental health worldwide than the virus itself.
This is the second once-in-lifetime economic slowdown people born in the 90’s are witnessing and wrecking their economic prospects for life. Those who were able to build up careers after the 2008 recession now have another slowdown to deal with. In countries like India, half of the nation’s millennial population has borrowed more money during the pandemic.
Whatever the long term impact of COVID-19, it has reduced the economic future of an entire generation. Clearly, they know it too.
Also read: 5 Shows to Binge as 2020 Draws to a Close