A heavy burden of family financial stress from COVID on teen mental health

In a recent study published in The Lancet Regional Health – AmericasReview researchers examined the impact of financial stress associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the mental health of adolescents in the United States (US).

Study: COVID-19 financial strain and adolescent mental health. Image Credit: Astafjeva/Shutterstock


Besides the unprecedented increase in mortality, the drastic social distancing and lockdown measures imposed by governments around the world have also led to a global economic crisis. Recent studies have shown distinct associations between financial stress due to loss of income during the pandemic and depression and other mental health problems in adults.

Children and youth from families struggling with financial and socioeconomic constraints experience significant mental health issues, including behavioral and developmental challenges. As they age, they are also more likely to develop social dysfunctions and health problems. Additionally, other drastic changes related to the pandemic, such as isolation, closure of schools and other areas where young people interact socially, and uncertainty about the future, have also been associated with the deterioration of the mental health of young people.

However, the specific impacts of pandemic-related financial stress, changes in family interactions, and factors such as parental mental health, family conflict, and quality of parenting on adolescent mental health n have not been studied in depth.

About the study

In the current study, the researchers used data from the longitudinal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which collected information from adolescent participants between the ages of nine and 10 at 21 sites in the United States through online surveys before the onset of COVID-19. pandemic. The ABCD study also administered targeted surveys between May 2020 and 2021 to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents.

Two measures of exposure were used to analyze the impact of financial stress associated with the pandemic – one was objective stress characterized by pandemic-related wage loss reported by parents in the household, and the other was subjective stress based on financial stress reported by teens. Objective hardship was measured based on a binary response (yes or no) indicating whether a household member had suffered a wage loss since the start of the pandemic. Subjective tension was measured by how often the adolescent had worried that the family did not have enough money for necessities during the previous week. Responses were on a scale of zero to four, with zero being “never” and four being “very frequently”.

Outcome measures were rated on an eight-point sadness scale that analyzed feelings of loneliness, sadness, inability to have fun, and hopelessness on a scale of one to five, with one being “never” to five. indicating “always”. The ABCD Study surveys also contained questions assessing the use of substances, such as alcohol, marijuana and other drugs among participants.

Statistical analyzes included univariate comparisons between participants from families who experienced wage loss and those who kept their wages during the pandemic. Additionally, longitudinal mediation analyzes were conducted to understand the mechanisms underlying the impact of financial stress on adolescent mental health.


The results reported a high prevalence (greater than 70%) of financial stress due to lost wages during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in low-income families. Additionally, lost wages and the resulting financial stress were associated with depressive symptoms in participants.

The association between financial stress and depression remained robust despite controlling for other environmental confounders. Additionally, factors mediating the association between lost wages and depression in youth were found at the family and individual level, such as family conflict and financial stress. These results indicate that socioeconomic disadvantage may affect adolescent mental health through changes in parenting and home environment and stress experienced by adolescents about their socioeconomic status.

The results of the study have two important clinical implications. The first highlighted the impact of social determinants on mental health. Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have made this association more salient, it also points to the broader association between financial status and mental health in youth. The second clinical implication suggested two targets for intervention to alleviate the mental health burden of the pandemic – subjective financial stress and family conflict experienced by young people.


Overall, the findings suggest that the economic crisis that resulted from the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on adolescent mental health. In families that experienced wage loss, family conflict and financial stress in youth were associated with depressive symptoms. The study discussed intervention strategies to alleviate the burden of mental health among young people during times of economic stress.

Journal reference:

  • Argabright, ST, Tran, KT, Visoki, E., DiDomenico, GE, Moore, TM & Barzilay, R. (2022). Financial strain related to COVID-19 and adolescent mental health. The Lancet Regional Health – Americas100391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2022.100391, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667193X22002083


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