Lockdowns did not significantly affect young people’s mental health
Young people’s mental health has not been affected by the two corona lockdowns, a new study from the University of Copenhagen concludes. But in the short run, it did suffer temporarily.
Young people will get lonely, depressed and anxious. During the corona crisis, we talked a lot about the effect of the two national lockdowns on especially young people’s mental health.
But a new study from the University of Copenhagen now suggests that there may not have been reason to worry.
“We did not find any strong indicators of a continued negative effect on mental health measured as quality of life, mental well-being and loneliness. Neither in the first nor the second national lockdown,” says Associate Professor at Public Health Katrine Strandberg-Larsen, who headed the study.
The researchers collected data from approximately 30,000 young people aged 18-24 years, who before, during and after the lockdowns answered the same questions about quality of life, mental well-being and loneliness.
On a general level, the figures are reassuring, suggesting that the lockdowns did not have a long-term effect.
Studying their answers, the researchers used two different methods. The figures from the first method show that following the last lockdown in spring 2021 the level of loneliness was the same as before the lockdowns, whereas the levels for quality of life and mental well-being were slightly lower.
The second method showed virtually no difference between young people’s mental health before and after the lockdowns, respectively.
“On a general level, the figures are reassuring, suggesting that the lockdowns did not have a long-term effect. We have previously shown that quality of life increased with reopening, and I therefore predict that we will soon see a similar normalisation of quality of life and mental well-being,” says Katrine Strandberg-Larsen.
New figures from the Danish Health Authority’s Health Profile 2021 show that young people’s mental health has worsened significantly since 2013.
Katrine Stranberg-Larsen thinks that her new research can help nuance this picture.
“Our study suggests that in the long run the corona lockdowns will not make it worse, though we should bear in mind that the Health Profile data were collected shortly after the reopening in 2021. In my opinion, the figures would probably be more positive if we collected new data today,” says Katrine Strandberg-Larsen.
Corona lockdown had a shock effect
Even though the new study suggests that the lockdowns had no significant, long-term effect on young people’s mental health, the study does show that mental health levels dropped during the first and second lockdowns.
Figures from the first method focussing on the same one group of young people reveal that the extensive lockdowns in spring 2020 saw the lowest levels of mental health.
“This suggests that what we are seeing here is a shock effect. That when something big happens, it affects our well-being. But surely, responding when something happens in the world around us is to some extent a healthy reaction,” says Katrine Strandberg-Larsen.
Already during the gradual reopening following the first lockdown, young people’s mental well-being and loneliness had reached the same levels as before the corona lockdown, whereas the level of quality of life remained lower.
And that brings us to the last measuring conducted after the 2021 reopening, where the levels for mental well-being and quality of life were lower than before the lockdowns, whereas the level for loneliness was more or less unchanged.
Young people with depressive symptoms do not experience drop in mental health
Katrine Strandberg-Larsen also stresses that according to the study young people with depressive symptoms do not seem to experience a similar drop in mental health as young people without depressive symptoms.
“The figures actually indicate that young people with depressive symptoms see an improvement. Of course, this may be because some are actually relieved when lockdowns cause society to slow down – but that is just guesswork.”
It is important to bear in mind, though, that young people with depressive symptoms experienced significantly lower mental health than young people without depressive symptoms both before and during the lockdowns.
Associate Professor Katrine Strandberg-Larsen
+45 20 22 35 36
Press and Communications Officer Liva Polack
+45 23 68 03 89