Young people are experiencing significant psychological distress following the outbreak of COVID-19, including heightened symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This finding comes from a Chinese study published in Psychiatric Quarterly.
Research conducted during the 2003 outbreak of SARS presented a link between public health crises and psychological issues in the population. Prompted by these findings, researchers Liang and colleagues aimed to explore mental health issues in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on China’s young population.
A survey was completed by 584 youth between the ages of 14-35, approximately two weeks after the declaration of COVID-19 as a national public health emergency. Around 78% of subjects were students and about three-quarters of them were between the ages of 21-30.
Participants completed the General Health Questionnaire to assess the presence of psychological problems, the PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version to assess symptoms of PTSD, and the Simplified Coping Style Questionnaire to identify the presence of negative coping strategies.
The results revealed significant psychological distress in respondents. Around 40% of subjects reported psychological issues and around 14% showed symptoms of PTSD. The authors point out that the incidence of mental health issues seen in their sample is higher than reported in previous studies conducted during the SARS outbreak. They suggest that this might be due to the fact that their study was conducted so soon after the emergence of COVID-19. Additionally, the human-to-human transmissibility of the virus likely leads to heightened fear of infection.
An effect was found for level of education, showing that those with a junior high school education or lower showed more psychological problems and increased PTSD symptoms than those with a secondary education or above. The use of negative coping styles was also linked to higher psychological distress. The authors discuss the possibility that a higher education might allow for a better understanding of mental health issues like PTSD, leading those who are more educated to take positive steps towards mitigating negative symptoms and improving their mental health.
Additionally, divorced or widowed participants had more symptoms of PTSD and increased psychological issues than those who were married or cohabiting. The authors suggest that divorced or windowed individuals are lacking in social support and possibly experiencing heightened financial stress due to the crisis.
The authors conclude that their study provides compelling evidence that the COVID-19 outbreak has a powerful impact on youth mental health. The authors stress the need for quality mental health services during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to assisting less-educated youth. They say, “The government and relevant psychological institutions should take relevant psychological counseling measures to help this group recover from the impact of COVID-19.”
The study, “The Effect of COVID-19 on Youth Mental Health”, was authored by Leilei Liang, Hui Ren, Ruilin Cao, Yueyang Hu, Zeying Qin, Chuanen Li, and Songli Mei.