Pandemic effect on mental health hit younger generations harder

Mental health problems like anxiety and depression were more common among younger generations before the COVID-19 outbreak — but the gap between young and old became even wider during the pandemic, according to new findings from CNC and four other cohort studies

What we asked you

During the first year of the pandemic, we sent you three different online surveys to ask how you were getting on under the COVID-19 restrictions: in May 2020, September/October 2020, and February/March 2021.

At each of those surveys, we asked you a series of questions about how you had been feeling lately, to gauge whether you were experiencing any of the common symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety levels rose faster for your generation

Symptoms of depression were higher than anticipated among your generation in the first months of the pandemic. Dr Darío Moreno-Agostino, the lead researcher, said: “To explain just how unexpected this was, if we assumed that the gap in mental ill health between younger and older people stayed the same over time, we wouldn’t have expected to see depression levels like those we found among the younger generations for another 22 years.”

Anxiety levels also rose more quickly for your generation than older people during the first year of the pandemic. While all generations experienced more symptoms of depression and anxiety during the first year of the pandemic, the more substantial increase in anxiety levels among younger adults really widened the generational gap.

The researchers took into account other factors that might contribute to inequalities between generations, including the study members’ prior health and socioeconomic circumstances, and their psychological distress and life satisfaction before the onset of the pandemic.

Across generations, women, and people experiencing financial difficulties were particularly vulnerable to mental health problems during the first year of the pandemic.

Why this research matters

In the aftermath of COVID-19 restrictions, Government and the NHS are trying to figure out how best to support people whose mental and physical health has worsened during the pandemic. Research like this helps to show who might be in most need of support.

Read the full paper

Generational, sex, and socioeconomic inequalities in mental and social wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic: prospective longitudinal observational study of five UK cohorts’ by Darío Moreno-Agostino et al. was published in Psychological Medicine in January 2023.

If you are affected by the issues raised in this story 

If you need support with your mental health, there are organisations that can help.


Reliable information and support for mental health problems and offer a range of services and helplines where you can access appropriate support.

call 0300 1233393


Information and support if you are struggling to cope or would like to speak to someone

call 116123

You can also contact the Child of the New Century team at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (or Freephone:  0800 0800 092 1250)