Compounding stressors this year are seriously threatening the mental health of Americans, particularly the youngest generation, according to results of a national survey by the American Psychological Association.

Major sources of this stress include concerns regarding COVID-19, health care, the economy, racism and the U.S. presidential election.

“This survey confirms what many mental health experts have been saying since the start of the pandemic: Our mental health is suffering from the compounding stressors in our lives,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the APA, said in a press release. “This compounding stress will have serious health and social consequences if we don’t act now to reduce it. We’re already seeing this with some of the youngest members of our nation, who just seven months into this crisis are beginning to show signs of serious mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.”

The Harris Poll conducted the 2020 Stress in America survey online between August 4 and 26 and received responses from 3,409 adults and 1,026 teens aged 13 to 17 years. Researchers weighted data according to age by gender, race/ethnicity, education, region, household income and time spent online.

Results showed nearly 80% of adults cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a significant stressor, and 60% said the number of issues facing the nation feels overwhelming. Generation Z adults reported an average stress level during the prior month of 6.1, on a scale with 1 representing “little to no stress” and 10 representing “a great deal of stress.” The reported average stress level among all adults was 5. Further, nearly 20% of adults said their mental health is worse vs. this time last year. Over one-third of Generation Z adults, 21% of Generation X, 19% of millennials, 12% of baby boomers and 8% of older adults reported worse mental health. Generation Z adults were the most likely to report experiencing common depression symptoms, with 75% saying that in the prior 2 weeks they felt so tired that they sat around and did nothing, 74% felt very restless, 73% had trouble thinking properly or concentrating, 73% felt lonely and 71% felt miserable or unhappy.

Pandemic-related school changes have negatively affected Generation Z, with 81% of teens aged 13 to 17 years reporting having reported these effects and 51% saying the pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible. Moreover, two-thirds of Generation Z adults in college said the pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible, and 87% of Generation Z adults in college reported education as a significant stressor.

“Loneliness and uncertainly about the future are major stressors for adolescents and young adults, who are striving to find their places in the world, both socially, and in terms of education and work,” Emma Adam, PhD, Edwina S. Tarry professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, said in the release. “The pandemic and its economic consequences are upending youths’ social lives and their visions for their futures. We must work to provide social, emotional and mental health supports to this generation, while providing much-needed financial assistance and educational and work opportunities for youth. Both comfort now and hope for the future are essential for the long-term well-being of this generation.”

Survey results also showed most Americans were not receiving necessary support, with 61% reporting they could have used additional emotional support over the past 12 months and 82% of Generation Z adults expressing the same sentiment.

The report included the following insights for policymakers, civic leaders, educators and parents to support those most affected by the intersecting stressors that arose this year:

  • Facilitate access to mental health services during and after the pandemic;
  • create new and safe opportunities to connect with family, culture and community;
  • help young people observe important milestones in new ways;
  • provide innovative educational, work, training and employment opportunities tailored for this generation of young adults; and
  • acknowledge Generation Z’s sacrifices.

“As a society, we must galvanize our resources to support teens and young adults,” Evans said. “We need to stand with them to fight systemic injustices, which can be a source of stress relief, while supporting them in building their resilience. The pandemics of racism and COVID will not be overcome quickly. We all need to learn skills to help us manage our stress while we fight for a society that is more equitable, resilient and innovative.”