1 in 3 young people experienced declining mental health during COVID-19

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mental health has been a constant concern throughout the coronavirus pandemic. While a lot of that concern is centered around the well-being of seniors, especially those living alone, a new study finds many children and teens are also struggling with the changes COVID is causing in their daily lives. Researchers at The Ohio State University say one in three young people report experiencing declining mental health over the last year.

Study authors add the problem is worse among adolescents and young adults who did not have close connections with their families. The findings come from an ongoing study of nearly 600 teenage boys and young men in urban and Appalachian Ohio looking at how the pandemic is affecting their lives.

Results show a third of that group said their mood worsened and their anxiety increased between March and June 2020. Interestingly, the study also finds participants in a higher socioeconomic group were more likely to experience more anxiety early on in the pandemic. Teens and young men reporting decreasing closeness to their friends and family and those who are older also struggle with declining mental health, according to the Ohio survey.

One respondent described their pandemic downturn as “a return to a much more introverted, anxious and sedentary lifestyle, after recently making attempts to become more social, outgoing and level-headed.”

“Though serious cases of COVID-19 have been rare among young people, the pandemic appears to have taken another toll on them,” says study senior author Amy Ferketich, an Ohio State professor of epidemiology, in a university release.

Quarantine may have been positive for some

Surprisingly, researchers reveal that certain young people actually had some positive experiences during the stay-at-home orders due to COVID.

“The group that had really positive experiences talked about the opportunity for self-exploration, having more time to sit and think or get more connected to their family — at this age, most people are just going, going, going all the time and all the sudden they had this period of time where they could slow down,” says Eleanor Tetreault, the study’s lead author and a graduate of Kenyon College.

As for what is contributing to worsening mental health among many youths, study authors believe their parents’ working situation actually plays a major role. They suggest parents who transitioned to working from home during the pandemic may have made disrupted their children’s normal routines. The team adds this may explain why kids with a higher socioeconomic status may have reported worsening mental health, as their parents were more likely to experience a drastic change in their work schedules in 2020.

Tetreault adds that, although the change may have been a positive change of pace at first, “it did seem that for some people that changed over time, leading them more toward social isolation, anxiety and depression.”

“I think this could apply to any kind of really big change or change in routine for an adolescent or group of adolescents. It highlights the importance of finding ways to maintain social connection, and to help young people maintain those connections when normal social interactions are disrupted,” the researcher concludes.

The study appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health.