In a survey performed during the pandemic, fully one-third of adolescents reported high levels of loneliness. To determine whether measures for disease containment might portend future mental health problems, researchers performed a rapid review of studies focused on the relationship between loneliness and mental health in young people.
Correlations between loneliness and depressive symptoms ranged from moderate to large in 45 studies examining this issue, mostly involving adolescents and young adults. Generalised and social anxiety were also associated with isolation. Associations were found between isolation/loneliness and suicidal ideation, self-harm, and disordered-eating behaviours. One study examined mental health problems after enforced isolation in earlier pandemics; children subjected to quarantine were 5 times more likely than controls to require mental health services.
We can expect physical-distancing measures and disruptions to social supports and activities to lead to an increase in mental health problems. Clinicians and parents can anticipate manifestations of stress like clinginess, inattention, and irritability, particularly in younger children.