Social distancing may affect teens’ mental health, say experts

JOHANNESBURG: Fewer face-to-face encounters among teens may harm mental health and growth, and governments should weigh this effect as they consider the need for extended pandemic social-distancing measures, researchers said.

Between the ages of 10 and 24 years is a life stage when interacting with peers is vital for brain development and building a sense of self, according to the authors of an opinion piece in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal.

Earlier studies have indicated that reduced social contact during this period may have long-term detrimental effects, they said.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world have sequestered themselves from others in an all-out effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Governments are trying to balance the overall health impact of lockdowns against the toll of the virus itself, which has already killed more than 400,000 people worldwide.

“Even if physical distancing measures are temporary, several months represents a large proportion of a young person’s life,” said lead author Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

Young people living in a family environment, who have positive relationships with the parents, carers or siblings, may be less affected, said Livia Tomova, a co-author from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More research is needed on whether connecting digitally may help mitigate some negative effects, according to the review.