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Identifying youths most at risk to COVID-19-related mental illness is essential for the development of effective targeted interventions.
To compare trajectories of mental health throughout the pandemic in youth with and without prior mental illness and identify those most at risk of COVID-19-related mental illness.
Data were collected from individuals aged 18–26 years (N = 669) from two existing cohorts: IMAGEN, a population-based cohort; and ESTRA/STRATIFY, clinical cohorts of individuals with pre-existing diagnoses of mental disorders. Repeated COVID-19 surveys and standardised mental health assessments were used to compare trajectories of mental health symptoms from before the pandemic through to the second lockdown.
Mental health trajectories differed significantly between cohorts. In the population cohort, depression and eating disorder symptoms increased by 33.9% (95% CI 31.78–36.57) and 15.6% (95% CI 15.39–15.68) during the pandemic, respectively. By contrast, these remained high over time in the clinical cohort. Conversely, trajectories of alcohol misuse were similar in both cohorts, decreasing continuously (a 15.2% decrease) during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic symptom severity predicted the observed mental health trajectories in the population cohort. Surprisingly, being relatively healthy predicted increases in depression and eating disorder symptoms and in body mass index. By contrast, those initially at higher risk for depression or eating disorders reported a lasting decrease.
Healthier young people may be at greater risk of developing depressive or eating disorder symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Targeted mental health interventions considering prior diagnostic risk may be warranted to help young people cope with the challenges of psychosocial stress and reduce the associated healthcare burden.
Developmental adversities early in life are associated with later psychopathology. Clustering may be a useful approach to group multiple diverse risks together and study their relation with psychopathology. To generate risk clusters of children, adolescents, and young adults, based on adverse environmental exposure and developmental characteristics, and to examine the association of risk clusters with manifest psychopathology. Participants (n = 8300) between 6 and 23 years were recruited from seven sites in India. We administered questionnaires to elicit history of previous exposure to adverse childhood environments, family history of psychiatric disorders in first-degree relatives, and a range of antenatal and postnatal adversities. We used these variables to generate risk clusters. Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview-5 was administered to evaluate manifest psychopathology. Two-step cluster analysis revealed two clusters designated as high-risk cluster (HRC) and low-risk cluster (LRC), comprising 4197 (50.5%) and 4103 (49.5%) participants, respectively. HRC had higher frequencies of family history of mental illness, antenatal and neonatal risk factors, developmental delays, history of migration, and exposure to adverse childhood experiences than LRC. There were significantly higher risks of any psychiatric disorder [Relative Risk (RR) = 2.0, 95% CI 1.8–2.3], externalizing (RR = 4.8, 95% CI 3.6–6.4) and internalizing disorders (RR = 2.6, 95% CI 2.2–2.9), and suicidality (2.3, 95% CI 1.8–2.8) in HRC. Social-environmental and developmental factors could classify Indian children, adolescents and young adults into homogeneous clusters at high or low risk of psychopathology. These biopsychosocial determinants of mental health may have practice, policy and research implications for people in low- and middle-income countries.
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