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

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, young people’s mental health had begun to decline to historically low levels. In the face of this youth mental health crisis, the pandemic constituted a naturalistic stress paradigm that came with the potential to uncover new knowledge for the science of risk and resilience. Approximately 19-35% of people reported better well-being in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic than before. Here, we asked N=517 young adults from a cohort study to describe the best and the worst aspects of their pandemic lives (May and September 2020; 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 during the pandemic. Positive aspects also included a reduction in educational/work load and temporary relief from climate change concerns. The worst aspects included the 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/uncertainties about their personal, society’s, and the global future), and also to the sources of well-being that young people identify for themselves – including when facing a historic new stressor.
Original languageEnglish
Journal Adversity and Resilience Science
Early online date27 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Apr 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

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


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