The Adolescent Experience of the Pandemic is not “One-Size-Fits-All”
November 13, 2020

Adolescents are in a phase of their social, emotional, and identity development where they are seeking more opportunities to be independent as well as spend time with their peers, however due to the pandemic, they are less able to access those opportunities in an environment where social distancing is necessary. The New York Times (NYT) published an article[1] emphasizing that the pandemic presents these unique challenges for adolescents. Different survey data highlight that the effects of the pandemic vary among groups of adolescents and depend greatly on context. Below is a summary of the results of two different surveys featured in the article:

  • The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution surveyed 1500 adolescents between May and June and found that overall, the proportion of teens who reported feeling depressed and lonely had decreased since 2018. The survey’s authors postulate that these improvements may be attributable to increased amounts of sleep during the pandemic and also observed that a majority of respondents indicated feeling closer to their families. Notably, this survey found that adolescents facing food insecurity reported higher rates of depression.
  • surveyed 1000 adolescents in early October and found less optimistic results. Nearly half of respondents indicated that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic and more than half reported that their social lives had been negatively impacted due to the pandemic. Additionally, this survey found that outside of the pandemic, climate change and the struggle for racial justice were major sources of stress for respondents.

What does this mean for Title V MCH programs? To start, the effects of the pandemic on young people cannot be generalized at the national level. It’s important to assess adolescents’ experiences in their specific contexts to drill down to the root causes of behavioral health challenges during COVID and beyond. There is a critical need to address food insecurity among adolescents and their families as well as climate change, racial injustice, and other societal stressors that impact their lives and development. Approaching these issues with a social justice lens will be an important strategy for preventing adverse health outcomes for the remainder of this pandemic and beyond.

As public health practitioners consider replicating and/or adapting the surveys linked above, they can also think about convening youth-centered focus groups, working with youth advisory councils, or hosting virtual listening sessions or town halls (with youth as facilitators) to understand the root causes of stress and behavioral health challenges among adolescents in your specific jurisdiction. It’s essential to identify and connect those adolescents to quality care who are living with behavioral health challenges, but also equally important to implement a long-term plan for addressing the complex root causes driving behavioral health challenges among adolescents in your setting.

In September’s blog post, we emphasized the importance of elevating and amplifying suicide prevention resources year-round. To live up to that call to action, we are sharing this list of resources here again. Be sure to check out the list as it offers tailored resources and diverse messaging for adolescents and young adults: Closing out Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: Resources to Promote and Utilize Year-Round.

[1] Malo, A. The Hardest Fight to Have With Your Teen (October 2020). Accessed via: on October 30, 2020.