COVID-19 pandemic: Is teenagers’ health in crisis? An investigation into the effects of COVID-19 on self-reported mental and physical health of teenagers in secondary education

Elsevier, Public Health in Practice, Volume 2, November 2021
Jester N., Kang P.

Objectives: To evaluate the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on the self-reported perception of physical and mental health, in a cohort of teenagers. To assess the extent to which these effects are perceived as detrimental. Non-directional Hypothesis - the perception of physical and mental health will change over the duration of the eight weeks, due to the effects of the lockdown, as a result of COVID-19. Design: This was a prospective longitudinal study evaluating the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK over the eight week period, against the political timeline during which the study was conducted (April 08, 2020–June 04, 2020). Setting: Participants were all in secondary education, ranging from years 10–13 (ages 15–18). Participants: 55 volunteers have taken part in the study, the group of participants was mixed-sex and of different ethnic groups. Participants were chosen via an opportunity sampling method. All participants stem from a middle to high socioeconomic background. The target demographic of the study was teenagers in secondary education, so participants have been selected from a volunteer sample that is representative of this population. Main outcome measures: Physical health and Mental health. Results: Data obtained was synchronised with the political timeline over the eight week period, in order to provide specific interpretations for the findings of the study. Measures of physical health: Sleep with a median length of 8 ​h in comparison to seven before lockdown (SD between 1.236 and 1.835); 70.00% of participants experienced a decline in their physical health; Productivity amongst participants slightly decreased (76.70%–62.90%). The measures of mental health: Length of screen time, with a median length of 6 ​h in comparison to four before lockdown (SD between 1.48 and 3.3), however, it remained stagnant over the study period and participants did not experience a further increase; The number of hours spent on social media also increased, with an increasing number of participants spending over 4 ​h on social media; Conflicts increased in their family environment (from 25.60% to 37.10% of participants reporting more conflicts). During virtual school, conflict was at its lowest point (18.40%) and harmony in the family environment was at its highest peak (65.80%). 51.00% of participants relayed a decline in their mental health. A statistically significant correlation was found between exercise and creativity, both of which decreased over the study period (rs ​= ​0.42 is bigger than the critical value ​= ​0.22 when p ​= ​0.05). Conclusions: Despite certain positive effects, the overall impact of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has been negative, regarding both physical and mental health, for this cohort of young people.