Are major disease outbreaks from 2009 to 2021 associated with the mental health of adolescents and youth in low- and middle-income countries?
In this systematic scoping review of 6 databases, a total of 57 studies of the influenza A (H1N1) and SARS-CoV-2 infections revealed that these outbreaks were associated with adolescent and youth mental health. Results suggest high rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms, in addition to posttraumatic stress disorder, general stress, and health-related anxiety among adolescents.
Findings suggest that the H1N1 and SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks were associated with adolescent and youth mental health; future studies with improved measurement tools and the inclusion of a wider range of mental disorders and risk factors will help ascertain how epidemics affect adolescent mental health in low- and middle-income countries.
Adolescents and young people have been historically understudied populations, and previous studies indicate that during epidemics, these populations, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), are at high risk of developing mental disturbances.
To identify the existing evidence regarding the association of mental health with outbreaks of the influenza A (H1N1), Zika, Ebola, and SARS-CoV-2 virus in exposed youth and adolescents in LMICs.
Across 6 databases (Embase, Cochrane Library, PubMed, PsycINFO, Scopus, and Web of Science), the mental health outcomes of adolescents and youth (aged 10-24 years) associated with 4 major pandemic outbreaks from January 2009 to January 2021 in LMICs were reviewed. A group of 3 authors at each stage carried out the screening, selection, and quality assessment using Joanna Briggs Institute checklists. The social determinants of adolescent well-being framework was used as a guide to organizing the review.
A total of 57 studies fulfilled the search criteria, 55 related to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic and 2 covered the H1N1 influenza epidemics. There were no studies associated with Zika or Ebola outbreaks that met screening criteria. The studies reported high rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms among adolescents, including posttraumatic stress disorder, general stress, and health-related anxiety. Potential risk factors associated with poor mental health outcomes included female sex; home residence in areas with strict lockdown limitations on social and physical movement; reduced physical activity; poor parental, family, or social support; previous exposure to COVID-19 infection; or being part of an already vulnerable group (eg, previous psychiatric conditions, childhood trauma, or HIV infection).
Conclusions and Relevance
Results of this systematic scoping review suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and H1N1 epidemic were associated with adverse mental health among adolescents and youth from LMICs. Vulnerable youth and adolescents may be at higher risk of developing mental health–related complications, requiring more responsive interventions and further research. Geographically localized disease outbreaks such as Ebola, Zika, and H1N1 influenza are highly understudied and warrant future investigation.