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  4. The Impact of the Pandemic on the Mental Health of Adolescents

Adolescence is a period during which one is trying to figure oneself out and find a collocation for oneself in the world. This is often achieved through some level of exploration, experimentation, and sometimes transgression and risk-taking. Adolescents start to assess aspects they wish to incorporate into their identity and aspects they prefer to leave out. This developmental stage is also characterized by a sharper separation from parents, caregivers, and family; the peer group becomes the main point of reference. At the end of high school, many adolescents leave the family “nest” to continue this journey of self-discovery. Perhaps, they can define themselves for the first time less against the expectations or in comparison with their parents, siblings, and other family members.

Adolescents require their peers to accomplish their separation-individuation task. The pandemic and its consequences – lockdowns, closures, social distancing, isolations - forced adolescents back into the “nest” and severely limited their contact and socialization with peers. Adolescents had to devise creative ways of being together while being apart, transform “social distancing” into a physical but not social distance, and maintain a sense of community while apart. If we think of the human body as a canvas upon which many of the explorations, discoveries, and conflicts of adolescence play out, adolescents had to find other spaces and avenues on or through which to leave their mark and express themselves, sometimes leading to an overuse of social media, smartphones and the internet.


The pandemic uncovered the fragility and vulnerability that mark this stage of psychosocial development, including the fact that adolescents are still developing positive coping skills and the ability to process difficult circumstances. It also exposed the infinite resilience that youth across the world possess and the ability all human beings have of reinventing themselves and adapting. For some adolescents, this time at home, away from peers and school, was a welcome respite from the gaze of their peers, the effort, awkwardness, and social anxiety that permeates their face-to-face interactions. Their computer screens provided an extra layer of protection, a comfortable shield or filter, which afforded them the freedom to finally interact with others in a more uninhibited, casual, and relaxed way. For others, school may represent a sort of refuge, and not having the physical, tangible, concrete in-person contact with peers, teachers, and the school building caused them to feel lost and disoriented. Some adolescents may have struggled more than others with the lack of routine and structure. Not being able to participate in public life and engage in activities outside of their homes caused many feelings of fear, frustration, sadness, anxiety, anger, and loneliness.

Studies have shown that social connectedness, i.e., meaningful social interactions and supportive close relationships with family and peers based on trust and communication, engaging in positive and healthy behaviors like physical activity and healthy sleep may have functioned as protective factors for adolescents during the pandemic; while coping strategies such as video games may have served as a risk factor for negative mental health outcomes” (Cohen et al., 2021).

For parents whose jobs involve frequent traveling or long hours away from home, the pandemic may have provided an opportunity to strengthen their bond with their adolescent children but also gave more room for tension, conflict, and friction. In many cases, the mental health of adolescents was impacted by an increase in family and parental stress, with caregivers juggling working from home and homeschooling, facing job and financial insecurity, and other stressors brought about by the pandemic.

Youth and adults alike had to contend with individual and collective grief and loss (and in some cases, trauma), brought about by illness and death and the loss of a world as we knew it pre-COVID. Our assumptions, illusions, structures, routines, and habits were all being tested, and first and foremost, the illusions of safety, control, and certainty that allow us to navigate, somewhat seamlessly, a messy, chaotic world. As Andrea Hussong, professor and associate director of clinical psychology in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reminds us, the pandemic reshaped development: “The COVID-19 pandemic is both a shared and a personal experience. Development is not so much delayed by the pandemic but reshaped by it. Rather than asking high school seniors to “go back to normal” — which returns them to their sophomore years — we need to ask them and the systems that serve them to recognize their new developmental path. Our work, in many ways, is charting that new developmental path, the risks and benefits that may come with that path, and the ways to support youth resilience and thriving as they travel that path” (Hussong, 2021).

For many, the pandemic provided a harsh reminder that we are owed and guaranteed nothing. This reminder has perhaps made it even scarier than it already is for many teens to venture out into the world and envision their future. “Concerns over the future, social isolation, a sense of limbo, and lack of control all contribute to what one London-based psychotherapist coined a mental health pandemic” (Kwai & Peltier, 2021, as cited in Beal, 2021, p.237). The pandemic lay bare deep political, social, economic, and racial inequalities. For some, however, it has also provided the time and space to assess or reassess what is really important to them, the values they would like to be guided by, and what can be done away with. Perhaps, for some adolescents, it has been an opportunity to find more balance in their life, slow down, engage in hobbies, have some of the educational pressures removed, relax and get some much-needed rest. I am hopeful that it has allowed adolescents and their families to “declutter” and “recalibrate” their lives and make space for what really matters to them. In this way, the pandemic may have actually been of service to the natural, universal, and essential developmental task of building a sense of self–a task whose beauty lies in its imperfectness and the fact that it can never be completed.



Beal J.A. (2021). Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Mental Health of Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing 46(4), 237. Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Mental Health of Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults

Cohen Z.P., Cosgrove K.T., DeVille D.C., Akeman E., Sigh M.K., White E., Stewart J.L., Aupperle R.L., Paulus M.P., & Kirlic N. (2021). The Impact of COVID-19 on Adolescent Mental Health: Preliminary Findings From a Longitudinal Sample of Healthy and At-Risk Adolescents. BRIEF RESEARCH REPORT article Frontiers in Pediatrics, 08 June 2021. The Impact of COVID-19 on Adolescent Mental Health: Preliminary Findings From a Longitudinal Sample of Healthy and At-Risk Adolescents

Hussong A. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on adolescents’ mental health (Article). The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College of Arts and Sciences. The impact of COVID-19 on adolescents’ mental health


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