The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an isolating and lonely time for almost everyone. For adolescents especially, the loneliness accompanied by pandemic-related school closures and the like has led to an increase in mental health issues like depression and self-destructive behavior, according to a University of Maine-led study.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, looked at 362 middle and high school adolescents in rural Maine during the first several months of the pandemic in the United States. The participants reported about their mental health before the pandemic and again in June 2020, after months of lockdowns and isolation. Adolescents specifically reported on their depressive symptoms; frequency of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) like cutting, pulling hair, or hitting; and suicide risk.
The study also assessed adolescents’ feelings of loneliness and health anxiety due to COVID in March 2020, during the first week of school shutdowns in Maine.
The results showed that all adolescents in the study, regardless of whether they were feeling depressed before the pandemic, experienced increased depressive symptoms as a function of increased COVID-related loneliness. Loneliness also exacerbated suicide risk for adolescents already experiencing some level of suicidality before the pandemic. Surprisingly, elevated loneliness also predicated more frequent self-injury for adolescents who hadn’t been self-injuring prior to the pandemic.
The study shows that the effects of COVID-19 and pandemic-related closures were largely negative for most adolescents.
“Our results punctuate what we already knew. Adolescents need mental health support. Now more than ever,” said Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, director of the Peer Relations Lab at the University of Maine and principal investigator of the study.