Adolescent Psychiatric Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aiming to review the literature on adolescent psychiatric disorders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, seven […]

Aiming to review the literature on adolescent psychiatric disorders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, seven researchers conducted a study to try to understand the present and future impact of this pandemic in young peoples’ lives. The researchers are Sélim Benjamin Guessouma, Jonathan Lachala, Rahmeth Radjacka, Emilie Carretiera, Sevan Minassiana, Laelia Benoita and Marie Rose Moro. 

This pandemic has added unexpected and stressful life events like extended home confinement, grief, domestic violence and overuse of the Internet and social media. Other difficulties currently faced by teenagers and children are the fear of being infected or losing a loved one to COVID-19 and having mental care discontinued – for those who were already diagnosed with mental health disorders and had ongoing treatment. The study points out these elements and tries to answer two questions: What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on adolescent psychiatric disorders? Could this situation increase the risk of developing or worsening psychiatric disorders?     

In the search for data about adolescent mental health in times of crisis, it was noticed how little research exists on this topic. Despite that, information was found and it helped to get a sense on how this pandemic we are currently in is affecting young people.

Home confinement brought along with it an increase in reported cases of domestic violence, according to data from countries like Brazil and France, and even though there’s still very little information about this type of violence, it is possible to say that the target for it during this period is mostly women and girls.

A survey with adolescents in the UK reported that 83% of them agreed that the pandemic had worsened their mental health, and 26% of them said that they were no longer able to access mental health support. To add on to that, there is also a proven direct connection between brain maturation and social environment, so it is possible to say that the closing of schools can have an impact on these students’ mental development. This sudden interruption or change can directly impact teenagers’ mental health because, without school or mental health treatment, they lose an important part of their coping mechanisms with their mental health issues.

Other situations, like brutal grief and overuse of the Internet, also came up. With the large number of deaths and infection by the virus, many of these teenagers experienced death and grief for the first time in their lives, but in a different way because families are not able to perform the usual funerals anymore, and this can also have lasting emotional impacts in them.  

Internet addiction, in its turn, is suggested to be influenced by stressful and traumatic events, and with the extra time being spent at home during this pandemic it’s even more likely that people will develop it. Social media could play an important part in enabling virtual socialization and communication with family and friends, but the time spent in it is also correlated with levels of depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and sleep problems. 

Lastly, other problems cited in the study are the increasing of suicide rates and economic instability. There is no data on adolescent suicidality during epidemics, but it is known that stressful events are a risk factor for it. There is also little data about adolescents’ psychiatric disorders during economic crises, but some authors suggest that during the economic crisis in Greece, adolescents reported more tensions and fights in their family and less life satisfaction.

The conclusion, then, is that it is not possible to say for how long the psychological effects of this pandemic are going to last, but the whole scenario contributes to an increased number of psychiatric disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress, Depressive, and Anxiety, as well as grief-related symptoms.

Adolescents’ individual, familial, and social vulnerability are also factors related to their mental health in times of crisis. Teenagers are often vulnerable and require careful consideration by caregivers, and healthcare system adaptations need to be made to allow their mental health support, despite the home confinement. More research on adolescent psychiatric disorders in times of pandemics is necessary as such a global situation could be prolonged or repeated.