Kiss, O., Alzueta, E., Yuksel, D., Pohl, K. M., de Zambotti, M., Műller-Oehring, E. M., … & Baker, F. C. (2022). The pandemic’s toll on young adolescents: prevention and intervention targets to preserve their mental health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 70(3), 387-395.
Adolescence is characterized by dramatic physical, social, and emotional changes, making teens particularly vulnerable to the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This longitudinal study identifies young adolescents who are most vulnerable to the psychological toll of the pandemic and provides insights to inform strategies to help adolescents cope better in times of crisis.
A data-driven approach was applied to a longitudinal, demographically diverse cohort of more than 3,000 young adolescents (11-14 years) participating in the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study in the United States, including multiple prepandemic visits and three assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic (May-August 2020). We fitted machine learning models and provided a comprehensive list of predictors of psychological distress in individuals.
Positive affect, stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms were accurately detected with our classifiers. Female sex and prepandemic internalizing symptoms and sleep problems were strong predictors of psychological distress. Parent- and youth-reported pandemic-related psychosocial factors, including poorer quality and functioning of family relationships, more screen time, and witnessing discrimination in relation to the pandemic further predicted youth distress. However, better social support, regular physical activities, coping strategies, and healthy behaviors predicted better emotional well-being.
Findings highlight the importance of social connectedness and healthy behaviors, such as sleep and physical activity, as buffering factors against the deleterious effects of the pandemic on adolescents’ mental health. They also point to the need for greater attention toward coping strategies that help the most vulnerable adolescents, particularly girls and those with prepandemic psychological problems.
Keywords: Adolescents; COVID-19; Children; Mental-health; Pandemic; Sex differences; Sleep