An interesting research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network by Pieh and others researched this issue.

The authors assessed mental health in high school students aged 14-20 years after one semester of attending school remotely and almost a year of social distancing in Austria.  

Adolescents were recruited to be representative by region in Austria.  

Participants had to agree to the data protection declaration to start the survey which served as an electronic informed consent.  

Wellbeing was assessed with the World Health Organisation 5 wellbeing index which are:

  • Depressive symptoms were assessed using the PHQ-9 score
  • Anxiety symptoms were assessed using the GAD-7 score 
  • Sleep quality was assessed with the insomnia severity index 
  • Eating disorders was assessed using the eating attitudes test. 

Study participants were assessed via an online survey which was open from February 3rd to February 28th.  

Smartphone use was also assessed and its association with mental health and was analysed using the SP55 statistical software version.

A total of 3052 adolescents of whom 2139 were female 70.1% and 508 students were from a migration background 16.6% participated in the study.  

  • A total of 1514 students 55% exceeded the cut off for clinically relevant depressive symptoms using the PHQ-9 score that was greater than equal to 11.  
  • 1326 students that is 47% had clinically relevant anxiety symptoms with GAD-7 score greater than or equal to 11
  • 680 students that is 22.8% had clinically relevant moderate insomnia with a score of the ISI greater than or equal to 15. 
  • 1702 students 59.5% had clinically relevant disordered eating behaviour, an EAT score of 8, greater than 2 out of 3. 

The prevalence of suicidal ideation within the last two weeks was 1016 that is:

  • 36.9% of students, including 246 students 
  • 8.9% with suicidal ideation nearly every day and 203 students 
  • 7.4% with suicidal ideation more than half the days.  
  • Increased mobile phone use was also associated with worse mental health.  

In Austria mental health is regularly assessed with a health behaviour in school aged children study.  Since the latest health behaviour in school aged children study in 2019, mental wellbeing, as assessed using scores on the WHO 5, decreased from a mean score of 43.7 to 35.8 in girls and from 53.1 to 43.9 in boys. 

Life satisfaction, measured with an 11 point Cantril ladder from 0 indicating the worst possible life to 10 the best possible life decreased from a mean of:

  • 7.1 to 5.9 in girls 
  • 7.6 to 6.3 in boys. 

Mobile phone use had increased twofold overall since 2018 and higher use has increased more than fourfold. 

The findings of this cross-sectional study suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with impaired mental health.  

The mental wellbeing and life satisfaction in adolescents in Austria was significantly lower in 2021 compared with 2018.  

Depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, insomnia and disordered eating were significantly higher than prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Suicidal ideation amongst the study sample was significantly higher than in comparative studies, with approximately 1/3 of adolescents reporting suicidal thoughts.  

Smartphone use increased compared with 2018 rates and was significantly associated with mental health.  

The results of this study suggest a high prevalence of mental disorder some one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began in Austria.  

These findings highlight the need to implement health promotion and prevention strategies amongst adolescents. 

The London General Practice, the leading London doctors’ clinic works very closely with leading mental health providers to provide a comprehensive service for all aspects of mental health.  

If you feel you are suffering with any symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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