New study shows mental health effects of pandemic affected young people most

Tuesday, February 16, 2021
mental health.

Mental health declined for the general population during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but younger Canadians were most affected, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

“The impact on mental health was most pronounced for younger Canadians, who reported feeling lonely, depressed or anxious,” said lead researcher John Hirdes, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo. “This may reflect a true age-group difference in the COVID-19 experience, but it may also reflect generational differences in feeling comfortable reporting mental health symptoms.”

Researchers contacted more than 3,000 Canadian adults four times during the first five months of the pandemic to assess their anxiety, depression and loss of interest in everyday activities. The team used a clinically validated measure, the interRAI self-reported mood scale, in an online survey of a representative sample of the general population, which was provided by a professional polling firm.

Up to 44 per cent of participants aged 18-24 had increased feelings of depression in the first survey in mid-April, compared to 20 per cent for those aged 55-64, and 12 per cent for those aged 65 and over. By the fourth survey in late July, those feelings dropped to 43 per cent for the youngest age group, 17 per cent for those aged 55-64, and 8 per cent for those aged 65 and over. Being younger, feeling lonely, overwhelmed by health needs, having financial concerns and living outside Quebec were all factors associated with higher levels of depression.

“Overall, during the pandemic, the prevalence of depressed mood was 2-3 times higher than the pre-pandemic rate, even in July, when lockdowns were over and people were outdoors and more able to engage with others,” Hirdes said.

The researchers are concerned about the long-term effects of mental health flowing from the pandemic. “Without focused mitigation efforts, the pandemic has the potential to increase mental health problems in the long term,” Hirdes said. “Quarantine has been reported to cause post-traumatic stress syndrome, confusion and anger in the long term. At this point, we do not know what the long-term consequences of COVID will be, nor what policies will mitigate negative effects on mental health.”

The study, “Longitudinal trends and risk factors for depressed mood among Canadian adults during the first wave of COVID-19” has yet to be peer-reviewed but is posted on It was authored by Gustavo S. Betini (Waterloo)John Hirdes (Waterloo)Rhéda Adekpedjou (Université de MontréalChristopher Perlman (Waterloo)Nathan Huculak (Red Cross) and Paul Hébert (Université de Montréal).