Risk and protective factors for prospective changes in adolescent mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Natasha R. Magson*, Justin Y. A. Freeman, Ronald M. Rapee, Cele E. Richardson, Ella L. Oar, Jasmine Fardouly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The restrictions put in place to contain the COVID-19 virus have led to widespread social isolation, impacting mental health worldwide. These restrictions may be particularly difficult for adolescents, who rely heavily on their peer connections for emotional support. However, there has been no longitudinal research examining the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among adolescents. This study addresses this gap by investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents’ mental health, and moderators of change, as well as assessing the factors perceived as causing the most distress. Two hundred and forty eight adolescents (Mage = 14.4; 51% girls; 81.8% Caucasian) were surveyed over two time points; in the 12 months leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak (T1), and again two months following the implementation of government restrictions and online learning (T2). Online surveys assessed depressive symptoms, anxiety, and life satisfaction at T1 and T2, and participants’ schooling, peer and family relationships, social connection, media exposure, COVID-19 related stress, and adherence to government stay-at-home directives at T2 only. In line with predictions, adolescents experienced significant increases in depressive symptoms and anxiety, and a significant decrease in life satisfaction from T1 to T2, which was particularly pronounced among girls. Moderation analyses revealed that COVID-19 related worries, online learning difficulties, and increased conflict with parents predicted increases in mental health problems from T1 to T2, whereas adherence to stay-at-home orders and feeling socially connected during the COVID-19 lockdown protected against poor mental health. This study provides initial longitudinal evidence for the decline of adolescent’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results suggest that adolescents are more concerned about the government restrictions designed to contain the spread of the virus, than the virus itself, and that those concerns are associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms, and decreased life satisfaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-57
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Volume50
Issue number1
Early online date27 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Keywords

  • adolescence
  • COVID-19
  • depressive symptoms
  • anxiety
  • life satisfaction
  • longitudinal

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