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Fri, 3 Jun 2022

Girls have worse Covid mental health than boys

Sad girl
Image: Anthony Tran

A new study has found teenage girls were more stressed than boys during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and more focus should be put on their mental health needs if there is another, similar outbreak.

James Cook University neuroscientist Professor Zoltan Sarnyai and PhD student Riana Marie were part of a collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Studies on Human Stress that interviewed more than 1300 boys and girls aged between 13 and 18 in Australia and Canada between April and July 2020 - a few months after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.

“From a review of past investigations of infectious diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and H1N1 influenza, quarantine was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said this may be made worse for those undergoing adolescence as it is already a vulnerable developmental period associated with stressful transitions and the onset of psychiatric disorders.

“We wanted to see if the absence of a structured school setting, disruption of routine, reduced social interactions and general uncertainty had psychological implications for this group,” said Professor Sarnyai.

The scientists found female adolescents from Australia and Canada reported more symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and reported more personal concerns and worries associated with the pandemic compared to males.

“Girls reported more discussions about COVID-19 and followed the news about it more than boys. Girls experienced more symptoms and felt that these symptoms had a bigger impact compared to boys. Girls reported more subjective stress before, during, and related to COVID-19 than boys,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said girls were also more concerned about health, school continuation, personal/parental job security, and the availability of goods and services.

“We also found some cross-cultural differences, with Canadian adolescents reporting increased COVID-19 discussions and more concerns related to their COVID-19 experiences compared to Australian adolescents,” said Professor Sarnyai.

He said girls may be at significantly higher risk for mental health concerns because of COVID-19, which should be considered in adolescent mental health initiatives during the pandemic.

“Mental health responses during the pandemic should consider this significant gender difference and the effect of gender roles when developing stress management programs,” said Professor Sarnyai.


Professor Zoltan Sarnyai
E: zoltan.sarnyai@jcu.edu.au