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Psychological Responses to COVID-19 in Adolescents

Updated: May 26, 2021

By Kelsey Remeis, CEI Intern

In a time of uncertainty caused by the recent pandemic of COVID-19, thousands have been affected in many different ways. The virus continues to have different outcomes on individuals both mentally and physically. Researchers have begun to ask if all the symptoms and side effects have been explored. In a recent study by Guo et al. (2020), the effects of mental health in association with COVID-19 is looked at in adolescents from rural China, before and after the pandemic began.

Mental Health in a Pandemic

As the pandemic has progressed, the uncertainty continues. The need to quarantine in order to keep ourselves and others safe has paused physical relationships and social life. The need for human connection is so prevalent in our society that the absence of it has increased many mental health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fear about what is to come and the feeling of isolation has created a spike in stress and anxiety in individuals (CDC, 2020). The way that individuals are affected varies based on  their personal experiences and backgrounds.

A Study on Mental Health During COVID-19

The study administered by Guo et al. looks at differences in personal experience and backgrounds to uncover the different effects of COVID-19 in adolescent children. The study looked at Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs), anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and whether they played a role in adolescents’ mental health during this time. It was found that those who have experienced ACEs and exposure to COVID-19 were more prone to continual adverse effects, as well as PTSD. The aspect of self-isolation and fear of the pandemic make adolescents more vulnerable to psychological impacts.

ACEs are commonly linked with an increase in anxiety and PTSD. They are often used to predict health complications in later life, such as cardiovascular diseases as well as a way to predict socio-emotional development through adulthood. In the terms of this study, they are useful in understanding an individual’s background and if the exposure to COVID-19 will affect them more negatively than those who have not experienced ACEs.

The information gathered within this research was compiled from 6,196 subjects in rural China. The methodology looked at family and mental health history of individuals to note whether or not there had been past traumas and ACEs present. It was discovered that those who had been affected by the virus and who had also experienced past ACEs were more prone to a decrease in mental health stability (Guo et al., 2020).

How to Cope with COVID-19 in Schools

Adolescence is a difficult and transitory time in an individual’s life, and even more so with a pandemic occurring. It is more important than ever to recognize these changes and help support adolescents who may be struggling with mental health issues. Schools play a vital role in supporting these students as they are a steady presence in their daily lives. Some ways that schools can help assist children are:

· Keep routines in place

· Stay creative in activities

· Monitor your mental health as an educator

· Stay in touch

By continuing to do some of these things with students, the routine and steadiness will help to reduce anxiety and calm some of the fears present (Jacobson, 2020).

Other Resources

For more information on stress related to COVID-19 and ways to cope, check out the following blogs from CEI. All are full of great information and resources to ensure the best success for students and individuals as a whole.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Mental health and coping during COVID-19.

Guo, J., Fu, M., Liu, D., Zhang, B., Wang, X., van Ijzendoorn, M. (2020). Is the psychological impact of exposure to COVID-19 stronger in adolescents with pre-pandemic maltreatment experiences? A survey of rural Chinese adolescents. Child Abuse & Neglect, 104667. DOI:10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104667

Jacobson, R. (2020, May 15). Supporting kids during the coronavirus crisis. Child Mind Institute.

Mason, C. (2020, Sept. 23). Healing: A role for educators.

Wenzel, M. (2020, Sept. 09). Helping students cope with COVID and death.

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