COVID-19 and adolescent mental health in the United Kingdom

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

July 15, 2021



This study examines the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents in the United Kingdom as well as social, demographic, and economic variations in the impact.

Nationally representative longitudinal panel data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey were analyzed. The analytical sample comprises 886 adolescents aged 10–16 years surveyed both before and during the pandemic. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was used to measure adolescents' mental health.

The results from person fixed-effects regression models show that adolescents with better-than-median mental health before the pandemic have experienced an increase in their emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity, and peer relationship problems, but a decrease in their prosocial tendency during the pandemic. In contrast, adolescents with worse-than-median mental health before the pandemic have experienced opposite changes in each Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire domain. Further results from lagged dependent variable regression models show that compared with girls, boys have experienced a smaller increase in emotional problems but a greater decrease in prosocial tendency. The negative mental health impact is particularly prominent among adolescents in one-parent, one-child, and low-income households. Adult household members' COVID-19 symptoms and illness have undermined adolescents' peer relationships.

The results reveal the pandemic's diverse impacts on adolescent mental health, which vary with adolescents' prepandemic mental health and sociodemographic backgrounds. The findings underline the need for tailored mental health support for adolescents and targeted measures to mitigate inequalities in the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Published in

Journal of Adolescent Health

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 69 , p.26 -32






University of Essex, Albert Sloman Library *University of Essex registered users - Campus access*



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