Year: 2022 Source: European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2022). SIEC No: 20220688

The COVID-19 pandemic and containment efforts seem to be particularly challenging for adolescents. This study assessed mental health in high school students 1.5 years after the pandemic began in Austria. A cross-sectional survey was carried out from September to November 2021. Well-being (WHO-5), depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms and sleep quality were assessed. A total of 1505 adolescents participated (78% girls). The cut-offs for clinically relevant symptoms were exceeded by 62% girls and 38.1% boys for depression (PHQ-9 score ≥ 11), 49% girls and 29% boys for anxiety (GAD-7 score ≥ 11) and 28% girls and 17% boys for insomnia (ISI score ≥ 15). The prevalence of suicidal ideation (item 9 of the PHQ-9) within the last 2 weeks was 47% in girls and 32% in boys. These data collected in autumn 2021 (the start of the second semester of reopened schools; t2) were compared to data collected in February 2021 (one semester after remote schooling; t1). A matched pairs analysis according to age, gender, region, school type and migration background resulted in a total sample size of N = 2514 adolescents. Results showed small deteriorations in mental health (i.e., well-being, depression, insomnia, suicidal ideation) in girls at t2 compared to t1, and an increase in suicidal thoughts in boys (all p-values < 0.05). Qualitative data show that young people have a need for more psychological support, both professional and informal, as well as increased mental health literacy. Results suggest that mental health burden in adolescents remains high 1.5 years into the pandemic and highlight the need to implement timely psychological support.