Social factors associated with self-reported changes in mental health symptoms among youth in the COVID-19 pandemic: a cross-sectional survey

Abstract Background Children and youth experienced marked impacts on day-to-day life in the COVID-19 pandemic that were associated with poorer familial and friend relationships, and greater mental health challenges. Few studies provide self-report data on mental health symptoms from children and youth themselves. We sought to examine the associations between social factors and child and youth self-reported symptoms of worsened mood, anxiety, and irritability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods A nationally representative cross-sectional survey was administered online to collect self-report data across 10 Canadian provinces among children (11–14 years) and youth (15–18 years), April–May 2022. Age-appropriate questions were based on The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and the World Health Organization of the United Nations H6 + Technical Working Group on Adolescent Health and Well-Being consensus framework and the Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey. Associations between a priori defined social factors (e.g., relationship quality) and respondent self-reported mental health were evaluated using ordinal logistic regression models adjusted for age, sex, and geographic location. Results We analyzed data from 483 (51.7%) children (11–14 years; 227, 47.0% girls) and 450 (48.3%) youth (15–18 years; 204, 45.3% girls). The parents of most children and youth had resided in Canada for over 20 years (678, 72.7%). Over one-quarter of children and youth self-identified as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color (134, 27.7%; 134, 29.8%, respectively). Over one-third of children and youth self-reported symptoms of worsened mood (149, 30.9%; 125, 27.8%, respectively), anxiety (181, 37.5%; 167, 37.1%, respectively), or irritability (160, 33.1%; 160, 35.6%, respectively) during, compared to pre-pandemic. In descending order of odds ratios (OR), for children and youth, worsened familial relationships (during compared to pre-pandemic) was associated with the self-reported symptoms of worsened mood (child: OR 4.22, 95%CI 2.51–6.88; youth: OR 6.65 95%CI 3.98–11.23), anxiety (child: OR 4.24, 95%CI2.69–6.75; youth: OR 5.28, 95%CI 3.17–8.86), and irritability (child: OR 2.83, 95%CI 1.76–4.56; youth: OR 6.46, 95%CI 3.88–10.90). Conclusions Self-reported data from a nationally representative sample of children and youth suggest strong associations between social factors and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interventions targeting child and youth familial relationships may positively impact child and youth mental health.
BMC Public Health. 2024 Feb 28;24(1):631