Mental health issues in your 20s: What you need to know
It is never too soon to start looking after your mental health. While we learn early and often about the importance of nutrition and exercise for our physical health, it’s only more recently that mental health is getting equal airtime.
Whether you are finishing post-secondary education, looking to take the first steps into a career, or trying to survive and thrive as you discover who you are, your 20s can be a tumultuous time. By taking a holistic approach to your overall health, you can set the foundation for healthy living that will carry you through your 20s and beyond.
Consider how your physical and mental health impact one another and spend the time to address issues that may arise in either area of your life.
As with any other age, during your 20s you are susceptible to various mental health issues. Many mental health conditions develop when you are in your late teens and 20s. Young adults are the most likely to report feeling that their mental health is not in a great place. Just over 13.2% of Canadians between 20-29 years have said that their mental health is fair to poor.
As you enter your 20s, it is important to be aware of the mental health issues that can affect people in your age group.
Research has indicated that depression has a typical onset during the mid-20s. This complex mood disorder can be triggered by a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, stress, and brain chemistry. While depression has colloquially been used as a word to replace unhappy, it is much more than unhappiness. Depression requires professional intervention, and a person is not likely to simply “get over” being depressed. Over ⅛ of Canadians in their 20s experience depression. In 2022, a study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada (pdf) found that 17% of those aged 20-29 reported feelings of depression.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
It may seem normal to worry when you are juggling college, learning to live on your own, and trying to find your place in the world. Some worry is normal, but when worrying starts to take on a life of its own, it may be time to seek help. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health issue characterized by worrying excessively and uncontrollably about day-to-day events and activities. You may notice physical symptoms that accompany your worrying such as fatigue and trouble sleeping, which can ultimately lead to other physical and mental issues. During the pandemic, 13.6% of Canadians experienced GAD, with women being more affected than men (17.2% versus 9.9%). Another study (pdf) found that 26% of Canadians aged 20-29 reported experiencing anxiety during 2022.
Many things can be stressful in the life of a 20-something—from finances to career choices to relationships to family stress. As you start to show up in the world as an adult, it is no wonder that you may also start to experience more stress. Twenty-nine percent of Canadians aged 25-29 reported feeling like most days are stressful or extremely stressful. And when stress goes untreated and continues to grow, it can have negative effects on a person’s ongoing physical and mental health.
Most commonly diagnosed in the late teens/early 20s for men and late 20s/early 30s in women, schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects 300,000 Canadians. Schizophrenia affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves, and relates to others, and is often characterized by delusions and hallucinations. About 30% of newly diagnosed cases in Canada (pdf) are aged 20 to 34 years old. It is uncommon to diagnose a new case of schizophrenia after a person turns 40, so understanding the symptoms in your 20s is important. For more information visit The Schizophrenia Society of Canada.
Another mental disorder that predominantly begins in young adulthood is bipolar disorder. While researchers agree that bipolar disorder begins in early adulthood, one study pinpointed 20.7 years of age as the median age of onset for Canadians. Bipolar disorder is a medical condition that results in a person experiencing periods of depression and periods of elevated moods. They cycle through these moods continually. While we all experience regular emotional ups and downs, the mood swings for those with bipolar disorder are extreme.
Signs of mental health issues to look out for
Mental health is something that should always be on your radar. And while we can do everything in our power to protect our good mental health, it is also important to know the warning signs of mental health disorders to be able to react—and get help—quickly. Some of the signs of mental health issues you can look for are:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in mood including anger, sadness, or irritability
- Unusual or out-of-character behaviour
- Memory loss
- Withdrawal from their usual routine
- Increased dependence on drugs or alcohol
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Hallucinations or delusions
If you have concerns about your mental well-being—or the mental well-being of someone you love—contact a doctor and ask for an evaluation.
If you are in need of mental health support in Canada, these resources can help:
Kids Help Phone
Text Services: Text "CONNECT" to 686868 (also serving adults)
Chat Services: https://kidshelpphone.ca/live-chat/
Crisis Services Canada
Toll Free (24/7): 1 (833) 456-4566
Text support (4pm-12am ET daily): 45645
Canadian Crisis Hotline
1 (888) 353-2273
The LifeLine App
Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.