Age differences in mental health from May through August 2020 among U.S. adults: trajectories and the role of pandemic, lifestyle, and social factors

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Aging Ment Health. 2022 May 20:1-9. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2022.2076206. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Using nationally representative data among U.S. adults, we assess age differences in changes in mental health both from 2018 to May 2020 and during the pandemic. We also examine factors explaining age differences in mental health.Methods: We analyzed 2018 General Social Survey data (N = 2,348; age 18-89) and three waves of COVID Response Tracking Study data (N = 2,279; age 20-94) spanning May-August 2020. Outcomes included happiness, loneliness, stress, positive affect, and negative affect.Results: U.S. adults reported greater loneliness and less happiness in May 2020 versus 2018. Only loneliness and negative affect changed significantly from May to August 2020, showing declines. Mental health trajectories did not differ significantly by age. Overall, older adults reported lower loneliness, stress, and negative affect than younger adults during 2020. Older age was associated with two factors linked with better mental health: less likelihood of COVID-19 exposure and greater satisfaction with social activities and relationships. However, none of the factors examined herein explained age differences in mental health.Conclusion: Although mental health trajectories during the pandemic were similar across ages, older adults tended to report better mental health than younger adults. Future research should identify factors that explain age differences in mental health that persisted into 2020.

PMID:35593640 | DOI:10.1080/13607863.2022.2076206