Adolescent Health

COVID-19 and the Mental Health of Adolescents and Young Adults

September 26, 2023

In 2021, Dr. Javier Cepeda and his team set out to measure trends in depression and anxiety diagnoses among adolescents and young adults in the era of COVID-19. With support from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, Dr. Cepeda and his team analyzed over 45,000 emergency department encounters among patients aged 12-21 who visited the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida from April 2018 – March 2022.  

Their findings, summarized in the infographic here, showed that dual diagnoses of anxiety and depression increased by 37% in the 2 weeks following the announcement of COVID-19 restrictions. They also found that, compared to the pre-COVID-19 period, adolescents experienced a 114% increase in opioid overdoses. Furthermore, individuals diagnosed with depression had 2.89 times higher odds of experiencing an overdose compared to those without a depression diagnosis. Similarly, individuals diagnosed with anxiety had 1.48 times higher odds of experiencing an overdose compared to those without an anxiety diagnosis. 

Finally, the team conducted 20 in-depth interviews with patients who had received care prior to the pandemic. They identified several key themes that impacted the patients’ mental and physical health including, isolation, changes to relationships with family and those within their social network, and dissatisfaction with online instruction.   

Their research points to the need for mental health and substance use screening, ideally within primary care settings, rather than in the Emergency Department. Emergency Departments also need to refer these patients to appropriate services at discharge (e.g. engaging with social workers to facilitate linkages with primary care providers).  They are pursuing further research in this area to understand the barriers and facilitators of implementing such an intervention.  

The researchers presented their findings to the 2022 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Conference and the 2021 Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Scientific Symposium.   

The results from the quantitative and qualitative portions of the study were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health  and Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology  in January and April 2023, respectively.  

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