COVID-19 and Teen Mental Health
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic due to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). While scientists have moved quickly to study the physical health implications of the disease, less attention has been paid to the negative mental health repercussions.
To examine how mental health has changed during the pandemic, my colleagues and I utilized a community sample of adolescents who had recently completed a two-year, four wave study of adolescent mental health. Participants were recontacted to assess their anxiety, depression, and emotion dysregulation symptoms during the pandemic.
Making use of latent growth modeling based on four pre-COVID time points, we were able to identify the extent to which the fifth (COVID) time point deviated from trend expectations. Results showed that a) anxiety and depression scores were significantly higher than previous trajectories would have predicted, b) deviations from personal trajectories were associated with higher levels of perceived lifestyle impact due to the pandemic. Furthermore, gender-based analyses revealed that financial impacts, lifestyle impacts, and coronavirus fear were differentially associated with symptom increases for male and female participants.
The current study is among the first to report that adolescent mental health trajectories have been altered in the face of the COVID- 19 pandemic. As physical distancing and other safety precautions may be required for several years, it is essential that we gain a deep understanding of how prevention efforts are associated with significant disruptions to youth mental health in order to bolster youth resilience during these unprecedented times.
Want more info about this study? Check out the COVID-19 Study section of this site!
Poverty Exposure & Child Development Trajectories
Growing up in poverty creates marked inequalities in child mental and physical health: children who are exposed to poverty show higher levels of both psychological and physical health difficulties. Even more staggering, however, is that these inequalities are often still evident when children grow into adults, even if they are no longer living in poverty.
A recent paper I published with Dr. Gary Evans focused on better understanding the trajectories of mental health (internalizing, externalizing, learned helplessness) & allostatic load (chronic, physiological stress) for children raised in & out of poverty. Using a large sample of children from diverse economic backgrounds, we used multilevel modelling to assess whether the amount of time a child spent in poverty was associated with inequalities in health during childhood, as well as the rate of health change into early adulthood.
Our results showed that not only was poverty a strong predictor of childhood levels of mental health & allostatic load, but it also predicted the rate of change (slope) of these important health indicators from childhood into adulthood. Importantly, these associations were largely still significant even after controlling for income level in adulthood.
We also examined whether cumulative risk exposure could help account for these associations. Cumulative risk represents the volume of risk factors that a child is opposed to. Previous research shows that individuals living in poverty are typically exposed to significantly higher levels of risk exposure than those living above the poverty line. Our findings show that the rate of change (slope) of cumulative risk exposure from childhood to adulthood mediated the association between poverty exposure and internalizing and externalizing trajectories.
This paper makes the case that poverty exposure during childhood not only affects child wellbeing, but also puts children on an altered course of development that persists into adulthood, regardless of their financial circumstances once they are adults. And, importantly, increased exposure to risk factors over time accounts for significant portions of these associations.