The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Adolescent Mental Health

Although the worst days of COVID-19 seem to be behind us, the impacts of the global pandemic will still be felt for years to come. This is especially true when it comes to the adolescent generation’s mental health, including those individuals struggling with eating disorders.

At Hidden River, we rely on the latest research on this topic to provide the best care possible for our patients. We will continue to keep an eye on this space, as we’re dedicated to adapting to the emerging needs of our patients and their families. 

So what does the research say about the COVID-19 pandemic’s long-term impact on adolescent mental health?

There are two ways to look at the research on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. The first approach is to consider the lasting effects of the actual illness, while the second approach is to look at the changes that occurred on a social and contextual level because of the pandemic.

Physical and mental health impacts

It’s perhaps obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on many people’s mental health. However, a systematic review found that those with diagnosable mental health conditions who became infected with the COVID-19 virus had no significant worsening of their mental health than the general population1, showing that everyone’s mental health deteriorated on the same level, no matter their predisposition. These findings may indicate that the illness itself did not negatively impact people’s mental health as strongly as other factors.

However, that’s not to diminish how difficult many people had it when it came to taking care of their mental health and also battling COVID-19 or the stresses caused by the virus. Another study found that fatigue was a common problem faced by patients who were recovered from COVID-19, which led to lower amounts of exercise.2 For many individuals, exercise is a form of stress relief; it’s as much about mental wellbeing as physical health. Thus, the lingering exhaustion felt after recovering from COVID-19 exacerbated mental health conditions for these people. 

Social and contextual impacts

Alongside the impacts that COVID-19 has on one’s physical health, the context of illness can drastically change one’s experience. For example, many individuals who were treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) setting showed long-term negative effects when it came to their mental health2, which may be a result of experiencing a severe bout of illness or the particular emotions that arise with being in a near-death situation — or even being in an environment with others fearing or experiencing death. 

There is also much evidence that shows that social isolation had negative effects on mental health, including studies conducted during and after lockdowns.3 With social isolation comes many other challenges, including the stress that comes from work-from-home or school-from-home situations and the inability to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise, especially team sports. Lack of social support can also negatively impact someone’s mental health, especially if it occurs over a long period of time.

Many studies showed that the prevalence and intensity of eating disorders in particular rose during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This rise in eating disorders4 could have yet-to-be-seen long-term impacts, as clinicians tend to believe that eating disorders have greater treatment outcomes when identified and treated early in the course of the illness, which may be especially true for adolescents and young adults. Individuals who struggled with eating disorders during the pandemic may face longer treatment times than they might have without the global disruption. Because eating disorders have many physical symptoms, COVID-19 symptomatology may also be a barrier to recovery.

The research on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on adolescent mental health is by no means finished, and we will all benefit from future scientific studies on this topic. If you find that you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder following the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Hidden River can help.

To learn more about Hidden River and to schedule a tour of its unmatched buildings and grounds, please call us today at 833.30.RIVER.


  1. Bourmistrova, N.W., Solomon, T., Braude, P., Strawbridge, R. & Carter, B. (2022). Long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 299, 118-125.
  2. Shanbehzadeh, S., Tavahomi, M., Zanjari, N., Ebrahimi-Takamjani, I., & Amiri-arimi, S. (2021). Physical and mental health complications post-COVID-19: Scoping review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 147.
  3. Liu, J.J., Bao, Y, Huang, X, Shi, J., Lu, L. (2020). Mental health considerations for children quarantined because of COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4(5), 347-349.
  4. Sideli, L., Coco, G.L., Bonfanti, R.C., Borsarini, B., Fortunato, L., Sechi, C., & Micali, N. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on child and adolescent mental health: systematic review. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 32, 1151-1177.

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