A year defined by social unrest, political polarization and a global pandemic took its toll on the nation's collective psyche, especially the young — and the effects may linger well beyond 2021, a mental health advocate told Yahoo Finance.
Throughout 2020, crisis counselors at the Crisis Text Line held 1.4 million conversations, according to the nonprofit organization, which offers free support 24-7 via text message.
In a new report, Crisis Text Line found a higher volume of nearly 3,000 conversations almost everyday after March 16th, 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, young people — confined to virtual learning with many schools shuttered — were among reached out to seek advice in the largest numbers, with 74% of the platform's users being age 24 or younger, the data revealed.
"The issues of last year and remote school have had a clear and significant impact on our young population," Dena Jones Trujillo, Crisis Text Line's interim CEO told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week.
She noted a dip in suicidal thoughts — but a surge in anxiety that makes experts "concerned" about young adults.
According to Trujillo, mental health experts suggest that this could "be a signal for increasing mental health issues in the future...when you stop protecting for external threats, like COVID, then the reality of your need for mental health supports increases."
For this reason, Trujillo says the Crisis Text Line is requesting that states take advantage of the roughly $4.25 billion dollars for mental health provided within the latest pandemic relief bill.
With the mental health of younger citizens a growing concern in the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns, Trujillo noted the impact of this pandemic is only "going to be getting worse in the future."
In the report, the platform acknowledged the spike in conversations around anxiety based around current events, most notably the first COVID-19 case, the murder of George Floyd, and the hotly contested presidential election.
Trujillo called 2020 an "unprecedented pain in our national history, with devastating pandemic and economic hardships and racial reckoning." She added that the organization's data found that sadness and depression dropped by 10% from the previous year, and suicide or thoughts of suicide dropped by 20%.
However, anxiety levels issues around grief and eating disorders increased, Crisis Text Line said. Deep-rooted issues like social inequality that came to light in 2020 likely left "trauma" on the nation, Trujillo added.
"Fear and anxiety — those are signs of trauma, those traumas have lasting impacts," she told Yahoo Finance. "They will not just come up in the immediate term, but in the long term" as well.
The organization also found that in the most populous states like New York and California people "text the platform most frequently," but throughout the entire nation, texters last year "were more diverse than in previous years."
Texters who identify as Black accounted for 14.2% of conversations, while users who identified as Hispanic or Latino accounted for 20.5% of conversations. Meanwhile, Asians made up 6.8% of conversations, and American Indian or Alaska Native came in at 3.9%. Those who identified as Middle Eastern, North African or Arab made up 1.6% of conversations.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor directly.
Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at email@example.com.