The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Physical and Mental Crisis

Wendy Wu ’22

Figure 1 :Prolonged social isolation is taking a toll on the mental health and social development of youth.

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 crisis a global health pandemic. Days later, COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in the U.S. Cases rose alarmingly and multiple states went into shut-down. Schools and workplaces closed, moving to online platforms as an effort to socially distance and slow the spread of the virus. What was thought to be a temporary measure, however, has actually reached its one year mark. Such prolonged social isolation may be associated with worsening mental health, especially in the youth. Mariah T. Hawes, a graduate psychology student at Stony Brook University, sought to examine the impact of specific pandemic experiences on mental illness symptoms in adolescents and young adults.

Hawes et. al. drew their sample from Long Island, New York, one of the first areas in the U.S. to be severely affected by the pandemic. They recruited 451 adolescents and young adults from two longitudinal studies on mental health at Stony Brook University: the iPANDA project and the Stony Brook Temperament Study. Participants’ ages ranged from 12-22 years old and their pre-COVID-19 assessment was identified as data collected 2-3 years prior. Researchers used two self-report inventories, the children’s depression inventory and the screen for child anxiety-related disorders, to measure depression and anxiety symptoms in participants. The research team also created a survey to assess participants’ concerns regarding five pandemic experiences: life changes, infection risk, school, home confinement, and basic needs. 

Among all participants, depression and anxiety symptoms increased during the pandemic. Of note, female participants experienced nearly a three-fold increase in rates of depression from pre-COVID-19 to COVID-19. The study also showed correlations between the specific pandemic experiences and mental illness. Greater COVID-19 school-related concerns were associated with increased depression symptoms, and greater COVID-19 home confinement concerns were associated with increased generalized anxiety symptoms. Because participants were not chosen randomly and because there was no control group, Hawes et. al. could not claim a causal relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and declining mental health. But their research strongly suggests that significant stressors for adolescents and young adults have arisen during the pandemic. And these stressors may have long-lasting impacts on their social development after the pandemic. 

Works Cited:

[1] M.T. Hawes, et. al., Increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological medicine, (2021). doi:10.1017/S0033291720005358. 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/photos/home-office-corona-virus-depression-5191464/.

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