Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and health behaviors in Swedish adolescents

Scand J Public Health. 2022 Feb;50(1):26-32. doi: 10.1177/14034948211021724. Epub 2021 Jun 8.


Aims: There is an urgent need to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescent mental health and health behaviours. To date, there are no such studies on Swedish adolescents. As COVID-19 emerged in the middle of our ongoing 2-year follow-up examination of the Study of Adolescence Resilience and Stress, we had the unique opportunity to use the corona outbreak as a 'natural experiment' to study the impact of COVID-19 on 15-year-old adolescents in Sweden.

Methods: Adolescents (baseline age 13.6±0.4 years) were recruited from schools in western Sweden (during the COVID-19 outbreak schools were kept open for those under 16 years of age). The COVID-19 pandemic reached Sweden on 31 January 2020. A total of 1316 adolescents answered the 2-year follow-up survey before (unexposed to COVID-19 pandemic, controls) and 584 after 1 February 2020 (COVID19-exposed). Data on stress, psychosomatic symptoms, happiness, relationships with parents and peers, school and health behaviours were collected.

Results: Adolescents reported higher levels of stress and psychosomatic symptoms and lower levels of happiness at follow-up compared to baseline. These changes occurred to a similar extent in both the control and COVID-19-exposed groups. Likewise, the COVID-19-exposed group showed no deterioration in peer relations or relations with parents versus controls. We did not find any significant differences between groups regarding sleep duration and physical activity. Conclusions: Swedish adolescents exposed to COVID-19 during most of 2020 showed no differences in longitudinal changes in mental health, relationships with parents and peers, and health behaviours compared to those not exposed to COVID-19.

Keywords: Adolescents; COVID-19; happiness; health behaviours; longitudinal; psychosomatic symptoms; stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sweden / epidemiology