COVID pandemic may have aged teen brains while worsening mental health, new study finds

COVID pandemic may have aged teen brains while worsening mental health, new study finds

Researchers found that teens whose brains were scanned throughout the pandemic had older brain ages, according to the study, meaning their brains appeared typical of an older person or someone who had experienced significant adversity.

The study, published Thursday in Biological Psychiatry, was authored by Ian Gotlib and others from Stanford University’s psychology department.

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The team had been working on a longitudinal study of the impact of early stress on young people when the pandemic hit, preventing them from continuing in-person assessments on the group.

However, the researchers used the pre-pandemic group as a comparison and gave the same assessment to another group matched by age, gender and other factors following the pandemic shutdowns.

The study included fewer than 200 participants, all in the San Francisco Bay Area. The study notes that many participants belong to a high socioeconomic group and that the majority were white or Asian.

Scientists found that adolescents assessed following the pandemic had reduced cortical thickness in their brains, a sign that is also associated with early life adversity such as abuse, neglect and family dysfunction.

The study also found larger hippocampus and amygdala volume and older brain age in the pandemic group. The hippocampus plays a role in learning and memory while the amygdala is the emotional center involved in fear processing and decision making.

The pandemic group also reported more severe symptoms of anxiety, depression and internalizing issues, including feelings of sadness, low self-esteem and behavioral inhibition.

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The researchers weren’t sure if these changes were permanent, according to the study.

“Another essential task for future research is to determine whether these alterations are temporary effects of the pandemic or stable changes that will characterize the current generation of young people,” the study states.

Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice chairman of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, said the results were not a surprise because it’s clear the pandemic has exacerbated health issues. mental health in young people.

“In many ways this is not surprising because we know that depression and anxiety affect the brain in many ways,” he said.

Changes in the brain’s cortex, hippocampus and amygdala seen in the study are consistent with known brain changes caused by anxiety and depression, he said.

Shah said he would like to see a larger study with a more diverse group of participants to confirm the study’s findings that adolescent brains mature faster.

“For us to make such a claim, we need to have a larger study,” he said.

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There is no doubt, however, that mental illness can create lasting brain damage that can create long-term consequences and problems for people, he said.

“We have to take mental illness seriously,” he said. “We have to prevent, we have to treat, so that these permanent changes in the brain that result from mental illness don’t happen.”

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