Adolescent Mental Health and Resilience Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rogers EM, Melde C, Williams J, Heinze J, McGarrell E. Adolescent Mental Health and Resilience Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Adolesc Health. 2024 Mar 14:S1054-139X(24)00113-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2024.02.023. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38493399.


Purpose: We aimed to assess levels of depression, anxiety, and resilience factors before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in a school sample of adolescents. We also aimed to examine the compensatory and protective effects of individual, family, and school resilience factors on adolescent mental health.

Methods: We used fall 2019 and fall 2020 survey responses from a cluster randomized controlled trial implemented in 20 schools in a Midwestern county. The sample consisted of 3,085 responses from students in grades 5 and 6. Multilevel mixed-effects models with cluster robust standard errors were used to investigate the associations between exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health (anxiety, depression), and resilience factors (future orientation, family engagement, and having a caring school adult).

Results: Anxiety, but not depression, was higher in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019. Family engagement increased during the pandemic, while future orientation of the student body was lower during that time and the prevalence of having a caring adult at school was unchanged. A positive future orientation was associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression, while having a caring school adult was associated with lower depression. Adolescents with less positive future orientations, low family engagement, and no caring school adults experienced the greatest increases in anxiety.

Discussion: Positive future orientations, family engagement, and supportive nonparental adult relationships had compensatory and protective effects on adolescent mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding these measures to the inventory of modifiable resilience factors during natural disasters may promote healthy adaptation among adolescents.

Keywords: Early adolescence; Epidemics; Health conditions; Mood disorders; Natural disasters; Promotive factors; Psychological resilience; Repeated cross-sectional design; SARS-CoV-2; Stress