The worst and the best: New insights into risk and resilience in young adults from the COVID-19 pandemic

Lilly Shanahan*, Lydia Johnson Ferguson, Michelle Loher, Annekatrin Steinhoff, Laura Bechtiger, Aja Louise Murray, Urs Hepp, Denis Ribeaud, Manuel Eisner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Historic declines in young people’s mental health began to emerge before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of this youth mental health crisis, the pandemic constituted a naturalistic stressor paradigm that came with the potential to uncover new knowledge for the science of risk and resilience. Surprisingly, approximately 19-35% of people reported better well-being in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic than before. Therefore, in May and September 2020, we asked N=517 young adults from a cohort study to describe the best and the worst aspects of their pandemic lives (N=1,462 descriptions). Inductive thematic analysis revealed that the best aspects included the deceleration of life and a greater abundance of free time, which was used for hobbies, healthy activities, strengthening relationships, and for personal growth and building resilience skills. Positive aspects also included a reduction in educational pressures and work load and temporary relief from climate change concerns. The worst aspects included disruptions and changes to daily life; social distancing and restrictions of freedoms; negative emotions that arose in the pandemic situation, including uncertainty about the future; and the growing polarization of society. Science that aims to reverse the youth mental health crisis must pay increased attention to sources of young people’s distress that are not commonly measured (e.g., their educational, work, and time pressures; their fears and uncertainties about their personal, society’s, and the global future), and also to previously untapped sources of well-being – including those that young people identified for themselves while facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-305
Journal Adversity and Resilience Science
Issue number3
Early online date27 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • COVID-19
  • protective factors
  • risk
  • resilience
  • young adulthood


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