A study published last month found that rates of depression in adults aged 18 to 24 had dipped to 44 percent, which is still considered significantly high.
Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and co-author of the study, said the pandemic and isolation are to blame for the rapid increase in rates of depression, and even now, young people still seem reluctant to engage with society.
"Unfortunately, the disruption caused by the pandemic will be felt for quite some time to come, and part of that is reflected in the continued mental health struggles of young people," she said. "We find that even as the country has opened up and people are no longer self-isolating, depression rates remain very high."
The study was the 26th in a series of extensive surveys conducted nationwide by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public's Policy Preferences Across States.
Ognyanova said the online survey polled approximately 25,000 people aged 18 and above. To fully represent the country, she said the survey used quotas for age, race, ethnicity and gender, and adapted its results to correlate with the U.S. population.
She said that survey respondents were given a screening exam commonly used by physicians identifying mental health symptoms.
Ognyanova said the study's findings about heterosexual and LGBTQ+ respondents differed considerably. She said 36 percent of heterosexual individuals reported depressive symptoms compared to 63 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals.
"In our data, we see (an) especially high level of depression among young respondents who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual," she said. "This is a devastating finding that indicates we need a lot more mental health support specifically for LGBTQ students."
Other groups more likely to meet the criteria for at least moderate depression are young women, young people with lower household incomes, unemployed individuals and young Hispanic people. These groups are also more likely to exhibit symptoms of generalized anxiety.
Ognyanova said mental health assistance for college students is essential to combat the depressive symptoms that emerged in the population during the nearly two years of remote instruction caused by the pandemic. She cites health centers and other mental health resources that serve as a haven for students affected by these challenges.
"The move to virtual education over the past two years, combined with the spike in depression levels among students, has created huge challenges for university mental health services," she said.
Ognyanova said that the Consortium has issued many editorials advocating for more significant mental health initiatives for those battling depression, anxiety and stress. The Consortium calls for more accessible health care, insurance coverage and more mental health parity laws.
"We need to invest in expanding mental health resources, especially as the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic are not going away any time soon," she said. "It is our hope that policies in that realm will continue to improve, especially given the current mental health crisis this country is facing."