How COVID-19 is affecting mental health across generations

Adults with small children or who are helping care for elderly parents are typically experiencing the worst mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Karestan Koenen of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the mental health of different generations in a September 21, 2020 Facebook Live interview with Christine Chen of the Esalen Institute.

Koenen studies the mental and physical effects of violence and trauma, such as sexual assault or natural disasters. Living through such experiences can result in anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can also increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or dementia. Likewise, COVID-19 can cause both physical and mental effects. The infection itself can be physically devastating, but so can the psychological toll of experiences such as losing a loved one to the disease, losing a job, worrying about being evicted, or even just the stress of complying with stay-at-home orders, Koenen said.

Millennials—for instance, parents juggling child care while trying to get their own work done—may be facing the most COVID-19-related stress right now, said Koenen. Older adults  (“Boomers”) may be handling the disruption better, in part because they’ve experienced more of life and know that bad times eventually pass. Teens (“Gen Z”) may also be able to adapt more readily to COVID-19 changes such as online school because they’re more used to virtual environments. But Koenen said that long-term school disruptions have adverse impacts.

Koenen noted that there are many ways to counteract the effects of COVID-19-related stress and other trauma, including therapy, meditation, yoga, talking walks, and maintaining a regular sleeping and eating schedule.

Watch the interview with Karestan Koenen: Understanding Trauma Across Generations