The current novel coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presents a time-sensitive opportunity to rapidly enhance our knowledge about the impacts of public health crises on youth mental health, substance use, and well-being. This study examines youth mental health and substance use during the pandemic period.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted with 622 youth participants across existing clinical and community cohorts. Using the National Institute of Mental Health-developed CRISIS tool and other measures, participants reported on the impacts of COVID-19 on their mental health, substance use, and other constructs.
Reports of prepandemic mental health compared to intrapandemic mental health show a statistically significant deterioration of mental health across clinical and community samples ( P < 0.001), with greater deterioration in the community sample. A total of 68.4% of youth in the clinical sample and 39.9% in the community sample met screening criteria for an internalizing disorder. Substance use declined in both clinical and community samples ( P < 0.001), although 23.2% of youth in the clinical sample and 3.0% in the community sample met screening criteria for a substance use disorder. Participants across samples report substantial mental health service disruptions (48.7% and 10.8%) and unmet support needs (44.1% and 16.2%). Participants report some positive impacts, are using a variety of coping strategies to manage their wellness, and shared a variety of ideas of strategies to support youth during the pandemic.
Among youth with histories of mental health concerns, the pandemic context poses a significant risk for exacerbation of need. In addition, youth may experience the onset of new difficulties. We call on service planners to attend to youth mental health during COVID-19 by bolstering the accessibility of services. Moreover, there is an urgent need to engage young people as coresearchers to understand and address the impacts of the pandemic and the short, medium, and long terms.