Symptoms of depression increased in young, low-income Latino adults during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. In contrast, symptoms of anxiety decreased overall – but rose when there was arguing in the home or other pandemic-related stressors.
The study analyzed data from 309 young adults, aged 18 to about 20 and predominantly of Mexican origin. Researchers compared the mental health of young adults before March 2020 with data collected in June 2021 to determine if their mental health worsened during the pandemic. Participants answered questions about economic, educational, and social stressors and were assessed for symptoms of anxiety and depression. The results revealed an increase in depressive symptoms in general, while exploratory analyses suggested women may be more vulnerable to pandemic stressors.
“There has been a lot of interest in how the pandemic affected the mental health of the US population,” said Julianna Deardorff, associate professor of maternal, child, and adolescent health at Berkeley Public Health. “However, few longitudinal studies have focused on young adults, particularly those from historically marginalized backgrounds, who were likely experiencing multiple stressors simultaneously.”
The report used data from the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas Study, a 20-year-old project to evaluate exposures to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals among families in the Salinas Valley. The principal investigator and senior author is Brenda Eskenazi, director of Berkeley Public Health’s Center for Environmental Research and Community Health (CERCH). The majority of participants lived at home, with more than 95% at or below 200% of the poverty line. The findings corroborated earlier research that showed Latinx individuals, women, and low-income people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Young adults are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression than their younger counterparts.
“Young adulthood is also a major transition time that involves increased financial independence, which can be particularly challenging for youth from low-income households,” Dr. Deardorff said. “This is certainly true in our sample of Mexican American youth living in a farmworker community. All of these transitions were exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic, as college may have become less affordable to youth and jobs more scarce or more unsafe.”
Participants’ sensitivity to COVID-era situations such as in-home conflict and eating more processed or sugary foods suggest that pandemic-related stressors had some negative effects on their mental health, particularly for women.
“Young women may have shouldered more responsibilities during COVID, including care for younger siblings, which impeded their own self-care,” the authors wrote. “However, higher satisfaction with social relationships was protective against depression for women.”