COVID-19 pandemic causing deterioration in mental health of youth: Myth or Reality?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Anastasia Kalantarova, HBSc, a final year medical student at Poznan University of Medical sciences in Poznan, Poland. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 pandemic has been a terrifying period of time for the whole world for many different reasons, the list of which is exhaustive. Not only the physical health, but also the mental health has suffered greatly. Many media headings have projected serious consequences of COVID-19 on mental health of adolescent population specifically. Being deprived of opportunities normally available at a given age, youth in the era of COVID-19 has been referred to as “lost generation”. There is no argument that mental health of youth has been affected. However, is COVID-19 pandemic the only one to blame? The answer to this question is not so simple.

To evaluate mental health in Iceland during the year of 2020, Dr. Thorisdottir, PhD and colleagues collected social surveys in schools, sampling depressive symptoms in youth between ages of 13 and 18. They reported deterioration of overall well-being and increase in depressive symptoms in current youth compared to peers of the same age before COVID-19 (in 2016 and 2018).  Another study published in 2021, analyzed mental health state of college students across the globe, to discover, yet again, increased prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms. From the above evidence, many would conclude COVID-19 to be the factor playing a role in this downslide trend of mental health in youth.

With majority of mental illnesses emerging in adolescence, this is in fact a sensitive period of individual development during which any influence counts. However, even prior to the pandemic, clinicians have noticed an increasing prevalence of psychological distress in this population. For example, depressive symptoms were prevalent in 9% of US adolescents back in 2005 and, in 2017, the number increased to 13%. Additionally, a comprehensive population study reported a slight increase in mental health symptoms at the start of the pandemic in 2020 compared to years before, however the authors suggest that the difference is statistically small. Some may argue that mental health in adolescents is simply following it’s established trajectory and may not be directly caused by the pandemic. Further evaluation and research is required to establish stronger evidence.

Either way, we are left with one fact that is true for certain – mental health in youth has been deteriorating over the recent years and we have to take action.


Chang, J. J., Ji, Y., Li, Y. H., Pan, H. F., & Su, P. Y. (2021). Prevalence of anxiety symptom and depressive symptom among college students during COVID-19 pandemic: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders.

Hafstad, G. S., & Augusti, E. M. (2021). A lost generation? COVID-19 and adolescent mental health. The Lancet Psychiatry.

Robinson, E., Sutin, A. R., Daly, M., & Jones, A. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies comparing mental health before versus during the COVID-19 pandemic. medRxiv.

Thorisdottir, I. E., Asgeirsdottir, B. B., Kristjansson, A. L., Valdimarsdottir, H. B., Tolgyes, E. M. J., Sigfusson, J., … & Halldorsdottir, T. (2021). Depressive symptoms, mental wellbeing, and substance use among adolescents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Iceland: a longitudinal, population-based study. The Lancet Psychiatry.

About the author

Anastasia Kalantarova, HBSc is a final year medical student at Poznan University of Medical sciences in Poznan, Poland. She has been a member of IFMSA Poland for the last 3 years and is an activist in her local academic community. Her mission is to empower future medical professionals to be proactive about medicine through research and advocacy efforts. She is an avid advocate for holistic approach to medicine and wishes to embody this approach in her practice as a family physician in her home country, Canada.

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