Young adulthood can be a difficult time of life. Worries about school, changing relationships, and the unknowns of moving away from home and starting a career can add to an already challenging transition.
It's normal for these pressures to cause some degree of stress and anxiety, which is usually temporary and resolves on its own. But for some young adults, symptoms are chronic and ongoing. What's more, the additional stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions and consequences can increase the risk for mental health concerns.
Many serious mental health issues can emerge during the life stage known as transitional age youth, or TAY, generally defined as ages 18 to 25. The typical onset of schizophrenia, for example, is between the ages of 16 and 25. Symptoms of bipolar disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder can also first appear during this time.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports young adults are experiencing disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use and elevated suicidal ideation associated with COVID-19. In a recent study, more than 25% of participants age 18 to 24 reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days leading up to the study.
Signs of stress
While distance and stay-at-home orders can make connections and observation of young adults difficult for some families, there are signs to watch for. Increased isolation, change in appetite and sleep patterns, and significant changes in personality and behaviors can be cause for concern.
"If your loved one is usually outgoing and suddenly becomes withdrawn, avoiding connecting with friends and activities they used to enjoy - even virtually - that's something to pay attention to," says Elizabeth Callahan, EdD, licensed psychologist and behavioral health therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. "Self-injury and substance abuse are other indicators that help is needed."
Dr. Callahan shares that seeking appropriate treatment as soon as possible is critical to successfully managing mental health issues.
Treatment targeted to young adults
"It's important to get treatment that is specifically targeted to meet the unique needs of young adults," advises Dr. Callahan. "We believe that individuals can achieve their personal goals in a supportive group setting, and many mental health services are now safely being provided via telehealth and group video conferencing."
Cognitive behavioral therapy programs, like the one at Sharp Mesa Vista, help teach skills to increase patients' awareness of their symptoms and how to best manage them.
"We help our patients develop healthy and effective coping skills, and successfully manage their medications," says Dr. Callahan. "We also ensure they know what to do if they experience a crisis, with a focus on safety."
According to Dr. Callahan, family involvement is vital to help ensure successful treatment. It is important to look for a program that provides support for loved ones and engages family members as partners in care. The ultimate goal of any program is to return patients to more meaningful lives within their community.
"Even during these trying times, we are able to connect our patients with ongoing mental health care, and resources for returning to school, job training and healthy socialization," says Dr. Callahan. "It's gratifying to know my patients have a bright future."
Learn more about child and adolescent mental health programs at Sharp HealthCare. There are also several hotlines that can provide counseling in the moment. If your child, teen or young adult is experiencing a serious mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24 hours a day, at 1-800-273-8255, or call 911 if they may be at risk for self-harm or suicide.