Friday, October 14, 2022

Adverse Childhood Experiences During Pandemic Take Toll on High Schoolers’ Mental Health

Nearly 3 out of 4 high school students were affected by at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) such as sexual violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or family financial insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report has found. These students were more likely to report poor mental health and suicidal behavior than students without ACEs, prompting researchers to call for greater efforts to prevent childhood harm.

“Comprehensive, cross-sector approaches, partnerships, and policies focused on primary ACE and suicide prevention and intervention, including those focusing on early identification, linkage to care, and access to trauma-informed services and supports, are necessary to improve adolescent mental and behavioral health,” wrote Kayla N. Anderson, Ph.D., of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues.

The researchers analyzed data from 4,390 high school students younger than 18 years old who participated in the 2021 Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, a 110-question online survey designed to ascertain students’ health and mental behaviors and experiences with ACEs.

Overall, 73.1% of the students reported at least one ACE during the pandemic, 53.2% reported one to two ACEs, 12.0% reported three ACEs, and 7.8% reported four or more ACEs. Compared with students without ACEs, those with ACEs had higher rates of poor mental health and suicidal behaviors such as making a suicide plan or attempting suicide. Students who reported four or more ACEs had the highest risk: 57% reported seriously considering suicide, 48.6% reported making a suicide plan, and 38.7% attempted suicide, compared with 5.3%, 3.7%, and 0.9% of students, respectively, who did not report ACEs. Poor mental health was four times more common and past-year suicide attempts were 25 times more common among students who reported four or more ACEs compared with students who reported no ACEs.

Certain ACEs carried a higher risk of poor mental health. For example, 82.7% and 82.0% of students who experienced past-year sexual violence or physical teen dating violence, respectively, felt persistently sad or hopeless. Emotional abuse was most strongly associated with poor mental health.

“This analysis highlights the ongoing, urgent need to address adversity experienced before and during the pandemic to mitigate its impact on mental and behavioral health,” the researchers concluded.

For additional information, see the Psychiatric News article “Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 on Children, Adolescents Constitutes Public Health Emergency.”

(Image: iStock/AlexanderFord)

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