ADHD News & Research

Youth Mental Health Impacted Unevenly by Pandemic

The most negative effects of the pandemic have been concentrated in BIPOC children, youth with existing conditions like ADHD and anxiety, and other vulnerable populations, according to a new report from the Child Mind Institute.

October 28, 2021

The pandemic’s negative impact on mental health is undeniable, but not everyone has been affected to the same degree or in the same way.

That is one finding from Child Mind Institute’s 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report1, released earlier this month. The report examined available research regarding the pandemic’s toll on youth mental health and found the most negative impacts concentrated in uniquely vulnerable populations. Children living in poverty, BIPOC children, and youth with existing conditions like anxiety, ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism all experienced more severe mental health repercussions from the pandemic.

The Child Mind Institute, which conducted its own health and impact study early in the pandemic2, found that children who lived in financially unstable households or who experienced food instability during the pandemic had worse mental health outcomes than their peers.

It also found that a child’s mental health three months before the pandemic began was the factor most closely correlated to their mental health during the pandemic. “In other words, a child struggling with depression prior to the pandemic was more likely to be struggling during the pandemic than one who was not,” the authors wrote.

The report, also citing the results of a survey administered to teens, noted that non-white teens reported more concern than their white peers about nearly every aspect of post-pandemic life, including academic progress, coping with loss and grief, economic struggles, and mental health challenges. White teens, furthermore, were more likely than Black and Hispanic teens to say that they have access to the mental health resources they need or want (32% vs. 19% and 21%, respectively).

Given these findings, the Child Mind Institute underscored the importance of protecting at-risk youth and fostering resilience. “What is clear is that, while mental health resources and support can make a significant difference, unequal impacts will remain as long as economic and racial inequality persists,” the authors wrote.

The report says that research and historical context indicate that, despite the current global public health crisis, many children and teens are resilient and will likely emerge from the pandemic without significant mental health challenges. Indeed, 67% of teens agreed with this survey statement: “I am hopeful that I will adapt and rebound from the challenges of the pandemic.”

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1 Osgood, K., Sheldon-Dean, H., & Kimball, H. (2021). 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report: What we know about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health –– and what we don’t know. Child Mind Institute.

2 Nikolaidis, A., Paksarian, D., Alexander, L. et al. The Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey (CRISIS) reveals reproducible correlates of pandemic-related mood states across the Atlantic. Sci Rep 11, 8139 (2021).