Mood and Behaviors of Adolescents With Depression in a Longitudinal Study Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 Nov;61(11):1341-1350. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2022.04.004. Epub 2022 Apr 19.


Objective: To investigate whether, compared to pre-pandemic levels, depressive and anxiety symptoms in adolescents with depression increased during the pandemic.

Method: We used data from National Institute of Mental Health Characterization and Treatment of Depression (NIMH CAT-D) cohort, a longitudinal case-control study that started pre-pandemic. Most of the participants are from the states of Maryland and Virginia in the United States. We compared depressive symptoms (1,820 measurements; 519 measurements pre-pandemic and 1,302 during the pandemic) and anxiety symptoms (1,800 measurements; 508 measurements pre-pandemic and 1,292 ratings during the pandemic) of 166 adolescents (109 girls, 96 adolescents with depression) before and during the pandemic. Data were collected during yearly clinical visits, interim 4-month follow-up visits, inpatient stays, and weekly outpatient sessions, with additional data collection during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, healthy volunteers (HVs) had a median of 1 depressive and anxiety rating (range, 1-3), and adolescents with depression had a median of 2 ratings (anxiety rating range, 1-25; depressive rating range, 1-26). During the pandemic, HVs had a median of 8 anxiety ratings and 9 depressive ratings (range, 1-13), and adolescents with depression had a median of 7 anxiety and depressive ratings (range, 1-29). We also analyzed adolescent- and parent-reported behaviors in the CoRonavIruS Health Impact Survey (CRISIS), totaling 920 self-reported measures for 164 adolescents (112 girls, 92 adolescents with depression). HVs had a median of 7 surveys (range, 1-8), and adolescents with depression had a median of 5 surveys (range, 1-8).

Results: Pre-pandemic, adolescents with depression had a mean depressive score of 11.16 (95% CI = 10.10, 12.22) and HVs had a mean depressive score of 1.76 (95% CI = 0.40, 3.13), a difference of 9.40 points (95% CI = 7.78, 11.01). During the pandemic, this difference decreased by 22.6% (2.05 points, 95% CI = 0.71, 3.40, p = .003) due to 0.89 points decrease in severity of scores in adolescents with depression (95% CI = 0.08, 1.70, p = .032) and 1.16 points increase in HVs' depressive symptoms (95% CI = 0.10, 2.23, p = .032). Compared to their pre-pandemic levels, adolescents with depression reported overall lower anxiety symptoms during the pandemic. Parent-on-child reports also were consistent with these results.

Conclusion: Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that both depressive and anxiety symptoms were lower for adolescents with depression during the pandemic compared to before. In contrast, the depression scores for the HVs were higher during the pandemic relative to their pre-pandemic ratings; these scores remained much lower than those of adolescents with depression.

Clinical trial registration information: Characterization and Treatment of Adolescent Depression;; NCT03388606.

Keywords: COVID-19; adolescence; depression; longitudinal studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depression / psychology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pandemics

Associated data