Teenagers fared better under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic

A study of adolescent mental health in the UK found that cases of high depressive symptoms would likely be around 6% lower if the pandemic had not happened, and suggests young girls were more negatively affected than their male peers.

Researchers from University College London compared the well-being of around 5,000 adolescents in a natural school environment during the pandemic with the mental health of adolescents during non-pandemic times.

Students from five schools were exposed to three different mental health and wellbeing interventions (mindfulness, relaxation, and safety and wellbeing strategies) and organized into two parallel-group randomized controlled trials (RCTs) . They then gave periodic responses to online surveys.

“Exploratory analyzes suggest that the impact of the pandemic may have been greater among women, with pandemic-exposed women showing greater depressive symptoms, difficulties with externalizing, and lower well-being,” the paper said. .

“Adolescents of higher socioeconomic position showed a greater difference in life satisfaction between the control group and the COVID-19 group.”

The UK-based study was also able to use data from an ongoing regional cohort collected for the Wirral Child Health and Development Study.

The results of the observational study estimated higher depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder and externalizing difficulties, as well as lower life satisfaction in young people who lived through the pandemic years.

“The pandemic has caused the mental health of this population to deteriorate beyond what could have been expected based on existing trends. However, there has been no primary effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents’ externalizing difficulties,” the journal states.

In 2017, the increase in mental health problems among UK teenagers (aged 11-19) saw between 14-17% of teenagers meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health disorder. And other cross-over cohort studies have shown deterioration in adolescent mental health in England.

“Despite widespread concerns and media coverage regarding the impact of COVID-19 and related school closures on adolescent mental health, there remains little strong empirical evidence that can causally attribute mental health changes to the pandemic,” the researchers said, noting a review of the literature found. only four other comparable international studies, including one from Australia, reported an increase in ‘internalizing symptoms’.

The other studies, conducted in Spain, China and the Netherlands, also reported mixed results.

“More recently, results from a population-based longitudinal study in Iceland revealed pre-pandemic depressive symptom trajectories between 2016 and 2018 and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Adolescents aged 13 to 18 reported significantly more depressive symptoms during the pandemic, and mental well-being declined beyond what might be expected based on existing temporal trends in health. adolescent mental health,” the document reads.

According to study authors Rosie Mansfield, Joao Santos, Jessica Deighton, Daniel Hayes, Tjasa Velikonja, Jan Boehnke and Praveetha Patalay, the main challenge was to differentiate between developmental change and the health impact of the pandemic. mental.

“To isolate the effect of the pandemic, studies should include pre-pandemic assessments of symptoms and consider the effects of age given known developmental patterns of mental health difficulties,” the paper says.

The authors also recommended that better support systems for student mental health would have been possible with clearer guidance and increased funding for schools.

The study was supported by the UK Department for Education published in the Royal Society Open Science journal Wednesday.


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