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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all our lives, not only through the infection itself but also through the measures taken to control the spread of the virus (e.g. lockdown).
Here, we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented lockdown affected the mental health of young adults in England and Wales.
We compared the mental health symptoms of up to 4773 twins in their mid-20s in 2018 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (T1) and during four-wave longitudinal data collection during the pandemic in April, July and October 2020, and in March 2021 (T2–T5) using phenotypic and genetic longitudinal designs.
The average changes in mental health were small to medium and mainly occurred from T1 to T2 (average Cohen d = 0.14). Despite the expectation of catastrophic effects of the pandemic on mental health, we did not observe trends in worsening mental health during the pandemic (T3–T5). Young people with pre-existing mental health problems were disproportionately affected at the beginning of the pandemic, but their increased problems largely subsided as the pandemic persisted. Twin analyses indicated that the aetiology of individual differences in mental health symptoms did not change during the lockdown (average heritability 33%); the average genetic correlation between T1 and T2–T5 was 0.95, indicating that genetic effects before the pandemic were substantially correlated with genetic effects up to a year later.
We conclude that on average the mental health of young adults in England and Wales has been remarkably resilient to the effects of the pandemic and associated lockdown.
Dysregulated physiological stress reactivity has been suggested to impact the development of children and adolescents with important health consequences throughout the life span. Both environmental adversity and genetic predispositions can lead to physiological imbalances in stress systems, which in turn lead to developmental differences. We investigated genetic and environmental contributions to autonomic nervous system reactivity to a psychosocial stressor. Furthermore, we tested whether these effects were consistent with the differential susceptibility framework. Composite measures of adverse life events combined with socioeconomic status were constructed. Effects of these adversity scores in interaction with a polygenic score summarizing six genetic variants, which were hypothesized to work as susceptibility factors, were tested on autonomic nervous system measures as indexed by heart rate and heart rate variability. Results showed that carriers of more genetic variants and exposed to high adversity manifested enhanced heart rate variability reactivity to a psychosocial stressor compared to carriers of fewer genetic variants. Conversely, the stress procedure elicited a more moderate response in these individuals compared to carriers of fewer variants when adversity was low.
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