Young people’s mental health deteriorated faster during the pandemic, study finds


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Researchers led by Professor Willem Kuyken at Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry compared the mental health problems and well-being of thousands of British high school students who experienced three lockdowns with a group of students who took part in the same study before the outbreak of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The findings are part of the MYRIAD (My Resilience in Adolescence) study and published in the journal JAMA Open Networkshow:

• Young people who experienced a pandemic were more likely to have increased depression, social, emotional and behavioral difficulties and poorer overall mental well-being.

• While mental health declined over time for both groups, mental health worsened for those in the pandemic:

  • Cases of depression increased by 8.5% in those going through the pandemic, compared to 0.3% in the pre-pandemic group.
  • Cases of high/very high social, emotional and behavioral difficulties increased by 7.9% in the pandemic cohort compared to 3.5% in the pre-pandemic cohort.
  • Cases of possible/probable mental health problems increased by 12.8% in the pandemic group compared to 4.5% in the pre-pandemic group.

• Girls and those initially at low risk of mental health problems experienced greater deterioration during the pandemic.

• Protective factors were a positive school climate, good relationships at home and a friend to turn to for support during lockdown.

• Even partial school attendance at the time of exclusion was better than no attendance for subsequent adjustment when returning to school.

Professor Kuyken, Professor of Mindfulness and Psychological Science at the Oxford Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation Department of Psychiatry, said: “This research not only demonstrates the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health, but also some of the protective factors that have helped them through it.”

“With the increased focus on young people’s mental health, it is vital that we understand what puts young people at risk and what protects them in challenging circumstances.”

“This study shows that to promote better mental health and adjustment among young people, we need policies that promote connectedness to home, friendships and a positive school climate, and take into account young people’s individual differences, needs and vulnerabilities. We also see that full school closures should be avoided in order to protect the adaptation of young people.”

Pupils aged 11 to 13 were included in the study, with their mental health and well-being assessed at four different time points over three years. There were more than 6,300 students in the group that participated in the research during the pandemic, with the final follow-up taking place in the spring of 2021. Meanwhile, there were 864 students in the group that was assessed before the pandemic, of which the final data collection group was in the fall 2019.

More information:
Jesus Montero-Marin et al, Youth Mental Health Changes, Risks and Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic, JAMA Open Network (2023). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.35016

Provided by the University of Oxford

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