A new UC San Francisco study has found that about 48% of young adults struggled with mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Science Daily.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health, also found that among the 48% of young adults, more than a third were unable to access mental health therapy.

Researchers used Household Pulse Survey (HPS) data from the U.S. Census Bureau to study the prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms in nearly 2,800 adults ages 18 to 25 years. They also looked at the rates of mental health service utilization and unmet need for care and therapy.

The researchers found that 48% of young adults reported mental health symptoms, while 36% of those reported unmet counseling needs and 39% used prescription medications or received counseling.

Young women, Hispanic, and uninsured young adults had the greatest unmet mental health care; however, these trends were not statistically significant.

Dr. Sally Adams, a Specialist in the UCSF’s Division of Adolescent Medicine, said the “unmet need” figures were a bit surprising.

She explained, “Given that only about one-third of those with symptoms received care, we might have expected to see closer to two-thirds reporting unmet need. It could be that the people with symptoms who didn’t report unmet need either didn’t think their symptoms were serious enough for treatment or feared the stigma of needing mental health services.”

The prevalence of mental health symptoms in the current study is high, but a CDC study has found that 63% of young adults were experiencing anxiety or depression a year earlier in June 2020.

Nevertheless, there have been consistent findings of significant mental health issues among young adults, which highlights the importance of addressing the issues and the barriers to care in this group, “such as cost, stigma and confidentiality concerns,” the authors wrote.

Study author Dr. Charles Irwin of UCSF said there is also a need to improve the size, distribution, and capacity of the mental health workforce.

He said, “Despite the development of virtual platforms for providing mental health services, the current need for services far exceeds the capacity to provide them.”

The authors also noted that identifying and treating mental health symptoms is crucial for the overall well-being of young adults.