Western Australian adolescent emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

H M Thomas, K C Runions, L Lester, K Lombardi, M Epstein, J Mandzufas, T Barrow, S Ang, A Leahy, M Mullane, A Whelan, J Coffin, F Mitrou, S R Zubrick, A C Bowen, P W Gething, D Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been vast and are not limited to physical health. Many adolescents have experienced disruptions to daily life, including changes in their school routine and family's financial or emotional security, potentially impacting their emotional wellbeing. In low COVID-19 prevalence settings, the impact of isolation has been mitigated for most young people through continued face-to-face schooling, yet there may still be significant impacts on their wellbeing that could be attributed to the pandemic.

METHODS: We report on data from 32,849 surveys from Year 7-12 students in 40 schools over two 2020 survey cycles (June/July: 19,240; October: 13,609), drawn from a study of 79 primary and secondary schools across Western Australia, Australia. The Child Health Utility Index (CHU9D) was used to measure difficulties and distress in responding secondary school students only. Using comparable Australian data collected six years prior to the pandemic, the CHU9D was calibrated against the Kessler-10 to establish a reliable threshold for CHU9D-rated distress.

RESULTS: Compared to 14% of responding 12-18-year-olds in 2013/2014, in both 2020 survey cycles almost 40% of secondary students returned a CHU9D score above a threshold indicative of elevated difficulties and distress. Student distress increased significantly between June and October 2020. Female students, those in older Grades, those with few friendships or perceived poor quality friendships, and those with poor connectedness to school were more likely to score above the threshold.

CONCLUSIONS: In a large dataset collected during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of secondary school students with scores indicative of difficulties and distress was substantially higher than a 2013/2014 benchmark, and distress increased as the pandemic progressed, despite the low local prevalence of COVID-19. This may indicate a general decline in social and emotional wellbeing exacerbated by the events of the pandemic.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ANZCTRN (ACTRN12620000922976). Retrospectively registered 17/08/2020. https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=380429&isReview=true .

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages11
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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