Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on anxiety and depression symptoms of young people in the global south:Evidence from a four-country cohort study

Porter, C. and Favara, M. and Hittmeyer, A. and Scott, D. and Sánchez Jiménez, A. and Ellanki, R. and Woldehanna, T. and Duc, L.T. and Craske, M.G. and Stein, A. (2021) Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on anxiety and depression symptoms of young people in the global south:Evidence from a four-country cohort study. BMJ Open, 11 (4). ISSN 2044-6055

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Objective To provide evidence on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of young people who grew up in poverty in low/middle-income countries (LMICs). Design A phone survey administered between August and October 2020 to participants of a population-based longitudinal cohort study established in 2002 comprising two cohorts born in 1994-1995 and 2001-2002 in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam. We use logistic regressions to examine associations between mental health and pandemic-related stressors, structural factors (gender, age), and lifelong protective/risk factors (parent and peer relationship, wealth, long-term health problems, past emotional problems, subjective well-being) measured at younger ages. Setting A geographically diverse, poverty-focused sample, also reaching those without mobile phones or internet access. Participants 10 496 individuals were approached; 9730 participated. Overall, 8988 individuals were included in this study; 4610 (51%) men and 4378 (49%) women. Non-inclusion was due to non-location or missing data. Main outcome measures Symptoms consistent with at least mild anxiety or depression were measured by Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (≥5) or Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (≥5). Results Rates of symptoms of at least mild anxiety (depression) were highest in Peru at 41% (32%) (95% CI 38.63% to 43.12%; (29.49-33.74)), and lowest in Vietnam at 9% (9%) (95% CI 8.16% to 10.58%; (8.33-10.77)), mirroring COVID-19 mortality rates. Women were most affected in all countries except Ethiopia. Pandemic-related stressors such as health risks/expenses, economic adversity, food insecurity, and educational or employment disruption were risk factors for anxiety and depression, though showed varying levels of importance across countries. Prior parent/peer relationships were protective factors, while long-term health or emotional problems were risk factors. Conclusion Pandemic-related health, economic and social stress present significant risks to the mental health of young people in LMICs where mental health support is limited, but urgently needed to prevent long-term consequences.

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Journal Article
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BMJ Open
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12 May 2021 08:35
Last Modified:
18 Sep 2023 01:54