Perspective: The pandemic hit teens hard. But did faith provide a shield for stress?

Almost immediately after COVID-19 began to spread, and particularly during the 2020 lockdowns, red flags were raised about mental health. Household incomes and daily routines were affected, sometimes severely. Connections between friends, family, and co-workers were restricted. Questions arose about how these and other changes might affect mental health problems, particularly during the formative years of adolescence.

As researchers interested in answering this question, recently published a report using representative data from 71,001 Utah adolescents collected by the Utah Department of Health.

We wanted to examine what types of COVID-19 stress adolescents experienced and how that stress may have affected their mental health, particularly their depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts. We also wanted to know what role religion may have played in all of this. Most previous research has found that religiosity and spirituality correlate with better mental health. Religions often provide support systems and a worldview that can make sense of difficulties. Would this benefit people during a time of severe stress like the pandemic?

The Utah Department of Health asked teens questions about stress they may have experienced due to the pandemic, such as getting sick with COVID-19, someone in the family losing a job, having to move, skipping a meal because there was no money to buy food, feeling anxious, sad, or hopeless, family members fighting, or the teen is having a hard time keeping up with school work.

Although details can be found in the full reportAlmost uniformly, if teens experienced any of these stressors, their mental health was worse. For example, among teens who had to skip a meal because they didn’t have enough money to buy food, suicide attempts were more than double those among those who didn’t skip a meal. Those who became ill with COVID-19 were 8% more likely to have considered suicide than those who did not.

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What role did religion play in these tensions? In general, those who were affiliated with a religion were less likely to experience this stress. For example, 2.5% of the unaffiliated skipped a meal due to a drop in income, while only 1% of enrolled teens skipped a meal. For unaffiliated teens, 18.4% said their family struggled more because of the pandemic, while 11.9% of religiously affiliated teens said their family members struggled.

There was one exception to this: affiliated teens were more likely to get sick than unaffiliated teens (28.3% vs. 23.1%).

With all this, what was the general effect of religion? The answer is that while religiously affiliated teens experienced additional mental health risks from getting sick, overall, they were much less likely to experience mental health problems, in part because they were much less likely to experience other stresses related to work. COVID-19. In the end, religiously affiliated teens uniformly had fewer mental health problems than those who were unaffiliated, had significantly less depression, and had significantly fewer suicidal thoughts and attempts (this seemed particularly true for Latter-day Saints and Catholics). .

In the end, religiously affiliated teens uniformly had fewer mental health problems than those who were unaffiliated, had significantly less depression, and had significantly fewer suicidal thoughts and attempts (this seemed particularly true for Latter-day Saints and Catholics). .

Pope Francis receives confession from a young faithful during the Youth Jubilee in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 23, 2016.

L’Osservatore Romano, Associated Press

What is the takeaway? The stress of COVID-19 is significantly related to mental health problems in young people. Initiatives that help reduce the economic burden on families – keeping meals on the table, keeping people employed and in their homes – are likely to have significant mental health benefits for adolescents. These initiatives may include religions and governments that provide vital resources for struggling families. Religions seem to be an important aspect in helping to reduce the impact of a pandemic, thus supporting the mental health of adolescents. Social supports and belief systems are likely to be crucial for many adolescents as they face uniquely stressful situations.

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At the same time, religious people need to be more aware of contracting COVID-19. Religious people, on average, have larger families, which can lead to more opportunities to spread disease. And, while ongoing gathering with one’s congregation likely provides a crucial barrier against mental health problems, these gatherings should prevent the potential spread that can increase mental health problems.

Still, congregating and worshiping safely can be one of the best antidotes during a pandemic.

W. Justin Dyer is a professor of religion at Brigham Young University and has a Ph.D. in human and community development. Ali Crandall, Ph.D, is an associate professor in the Department of Public Health at Brigham Young University. Carl L. Hanson, Ph.D, is a professor in the Department of Public Health at Brigham Young University.

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