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Disclosures: Luthar reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
January 04, 2022
2 min read

Adult support crucial to student mental health in pandemic, study finds

Disclosures: Luthar reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Support from parents and other important adults was crucial in staving off depression and anxiety among students during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study found.

The findings were published in a Social Policy Report from the Society for Research in Child Development.

Source: Adobe Stock.
Parental support was important for kids early in the pandemic. Source: Adobe Stock

In a sample of more than 14,000 students in grades 6 through 12 from 49 schools during the first 3 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers found that overall, rates of clinically significant depression and anxiety were lower during distance learning in 2020 compared with parallel rates documented during 2019.

"Our findings show that overall, the quality of relationships with adults — at home and at school — was the most powerful protective factor for children’s mental health during the first 3 months of the pandemic," Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, a professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a cofounder of Authentic Connections, an organization focused on fostering school-based resilience and community change, said in a press release.

“Unfortunately, many adults who provide this critical safety net for youth are now at high risk for burnout themselves, given the extended stressors from the pandemic,” Luthar said. “These findings call for concerted attention to the well-being of those charged with caring for youth.”

Luthar and colleagues’ analyses of risk and protective factors showed that in relation to depression, the most potent predictor was parental support, with effect sizes at least twice as high as those for any other predictor. Other robust predictors of depression included efficacy of learning online and concerns heard by school adults. In predicting anxiety, parental support again had the largest effect sizes, followed by concerns heard at school, students’ worries about their futures and worries about grades.

The researchers wrote that on a policy level, the findings call for a “concerted attention to the well-being of adults charged with caring for youth.”

“Parents’ mental health has been increasingly threatened with the protracted stress linked with the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. “Thus, all avenues must be considered toward providing them with support — using feasible, community-based interventions — as this is always the most important step in fostering children's resilience through adversity.”

Administrators were also advised to adjust their expectations about learning

“As educators try to make up for academic losses during the pandemic, they must avoid high workloads detrimental for students’ mental health (and thus ability to learn),” the authors wrote.

"Without attention to the psychological vulnerability of parents, school adults, and students themselves, children's risk for serious disorders could escalate and their learning can become constrained,” Luthar said. “Proactive community- and school-based programs must be treated as a public health priority as society continues to deal with diverse fallouts from the pandemic; the well-being of an entire generation is at stake.”


First large-scale study of adolescents during COVID-19 finds well-being tied to quality of relationships with adults. Published Dec. 21, 2021. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.