Global rates of anxiety and depression have doubled in young people during pandemic

Updated: Aug 20


Teenagers sitting on the beach
Image credit: Amir Hosseini (Unsplash)

A new analysis of 29 studies from across the world suggests that 1 in 4 young people are experiencing elevated symptoms of depression, and 1 in 5 are dealing with symptoms of anxiety


Although it's not a nice thought, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely be felt for generations to come. With social restrictions dominating our lives for the past year and a half, almost every aspect of our lives has been affected, both individually and collectively.


During lockdown in particular, concerns were raised of an incoming mental health 'crisis', and plenty of research and healthcare data is pointing toward the psychological fallout of the pandemic already being felt.


This is especially true for children and teenagers who have shown worrying signs of mental deterioration. Among the latter demographic in the UK, a recent study from Imperial College London suggested that cases of anxiety and depression had more than doubled during the pandemic.


But it seems it's not just young people in the UK that this pattern applies to. Research from the University of Calgary in the US now suggests that a similar impact is being felt by young people worldwide.

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According to their study, which pooled data from 29 studies from around the world and included over 80,000 young people, depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled, compared with pre-pandemic rates.


Looking at specific rates of these issues, the team found that 1 in 4 are experiencing symptoms of depression, while 1 in 5 are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Rates of both were worst among older adolescents and girls.


A long-lasting impact?


Despite the worrying picture the data paints, one of the biggest questions that is being asked of all the evidence suggesting a mental impact on young people is how long the effects will last.


Many thought that the effects of the pandemic would wear off as soon as young people returned to school and education, says Dr Nicole Racine, clinical psychologist and lead author of the paper, but as the pandemic persisted, young people were missing more of the important milestones in their lives. And many of these milestones occur during adolescence and teenage years, such as moving onto higher education, passing exams, saying goodbye to teachers and tutors, and beginning university.


"These kids didn't imagine that when they graduated, they'd never get to say goodbye to their school, their teachers or their friends, and now they're moving on to something new, with zero closure," says Racine. "There's a grieving process associated with that."


Still, this doesn't necessarily point toward a permanent long-term impact from the pandemic. With vaccination rates continuously climbing, social restrictions are likely to continue relaxing, potentially resolving some of the psychological effects of the pandemic.


But Racine still calls for caution, saying that for some young people who have experienced an effect on their mental health, and for those with issues before the pandemic, the past year and a half could be the spark leading to further issues long-term.


Dr Sheri Madigan, co-author of the paper, agrees, saying that recovery planning should be prioritised now "because kids are in crisis right now."


Read the full study paper here.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health