A longitudinal study of mental health in at-risk adolescents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Although cross-sectional studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of adolescents, the effect of the pandemic on adolescents with pre-pandemic symptoms is unclear. We, therefore, tested the hypothesis that adolescents had increased emotional and behavioral problems during the lockdowns imposed during the pandemic.This study included three measurements in a prospective cohort of 1022 adolescents who were oversampled based on their high risk of developing psychopathology. Before the pandemic, we assessed depressive, anxiety, stress, oppositional defiant problems, psychotic experiences and suicidality, using the Youth Self-Report; 445 and 333 of these 1,022 adolescents subsequently completed the online questionnaire in the first lockdown (in April 2020) and in the second lockdown (in January 2021), respectively. Multilevel random intercept regression models were used to determine the change in psychiatric symptoms, including an interaction term to assess whether these changes differed based on the severity of symptoms prior to the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, the majority of the participating adolescents reported having emotional and behavioral symptoms that were within the normal range. Moreover, the mean symptom scores for all six outcomes decreased significantly among adolescents with high clinical severity prior to the pandemic.In contrast to our original hypothesis, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may not necessarily be detrimental, at least among a specific subgroup of adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems. Moreover, our finding that most adolescents in this at-risk sample did not report experiencing clinically relevant symptoms during the pandemic reflects their resilience during the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1109-1117
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number6
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The iBerry Study is funded by the Erasmus University Medical Center and the following institutes of mental health care (GGz): Parnassia Psychiatric Institute Antes, GGz Breburg, GGz Delfland, GGz Westelijk Noord-Brabant and Yulius. All funding organizations participate in the Epidemiological and Social Psychiatric Research Institute (ESPRi), a consortium of academic and non-academic research groups.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.


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