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Mental health burden of high school students 1.5 years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Austria

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posted on 20.12.2021, 22:56 by Rachel Dale, MMag. Dr. Andrea Jesser, Teresa O´Rourke, Thomas Probst, Elke HumerElke Humer, Christoph Pieh

The COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts seem to be particularly challenging for adolescents. This study assessed mental health in 14- to 20-year-old high school students 1.5 years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Austria. A cross-sectional survey was carried out from 14th September 2021 to 14th November 2021. Well-being (WHO-5), depressive symptoms (PHQ-9), anxiety symptoms (GAD-7) and sleep quality (ISI) were assessed. A total of 1505 adolescents participated (77.9% girls). The cut-off for clinically relevant depressive symptoms (i.e., PHQ-9 score, ≥11) was exceeded by 61.9% girls and 38.1% boys and 49.3% girls and 28.8% boys had clinically relevant anxiety symptoms (i.e., GAD-7 score, ≥11). Clinically relevant moderate insomnia (i.e., ISI score, ≥15) was reported by 27.5% girls and 16.7% boys. The prevalence of suicidal ideation (item 9 of the PHQ-9) within the last 2 weeks was 46.8% in girls and 32.0% in boys. These data collected in autumn 2021 (at the start of the second semester of reopened schools; t2) were compared to data collected in February 2021 (one semester after almost exclusively remote schooling; t1). A matched pairs analysis according to age, gender, region, school type and migration background resulted in a total sample size of N = 2514 adolescents (70.1% females). Results showed small reduction in mental health (i.e., well-being, depressive symptoms, insomnia, suicidal ideation) in girls at t2 compared to t1, and an increase in suicidal thoughts in boys (all p-values <0.05). Results suggest that mental health burden in adolescents remained high 1.5 years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the need to implement timely psychological support.

Funding

None

History

Declaration of conflicts of interest

None

Corresponding author email

elke.humer@donau-uni.ac.at

Lead author country

Austria

Lead author job role

Higher Education Researcher

Lead author institution

Danube University Krems

Human Participants

Yes

Ethics statement

Approval for this study was obtained from the ethics committee and the data protection officer of the Danube University Krems (EK GZ 41/2018–2021). All participants gave electronic informed consent and confirmed that they were at least 14 years old.

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