Brains of teenagers have physically aged due to stress caused by pandemic - study

The results were that the developmental process had sped up in those involved while they were experiencing the pandemic.

Mental health [illustrative] (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Mental health [illustrative]
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

The brains of adolescent teenagers have been altered physically as a result of the stress they have felt that's been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study conducted by Stanford University has shown.

“We already know from global research that the pandemic has adversely affected mental health in youth, but we didn’t know what, if anything, it was doing physically to their brains,” said Ian Gotlib, a psychology professor and one of the authors of the paper.

The study, which was published on Thursday in Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, saw Gotlib compare MRI scans from 163 children that were taken both before and during the pandemic. The results were that the developmental process had sped up in those involved while they were experiencing the pandemic.

The psychology professor said that it was chronic adversity that causes these changes.

Gotlib is also the director of the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Laboratory at Stanford University. 

JUGGLING WORK with childcare during a pandemic takes a toll on mental health. (credit: ING IMAGE)JUGGLING WORK with childcare during a pandemic takes a toll on mental health. (credit: ING IMAGE)

Mental health is not the only factor that's impacted

However, Gotlib states that it is still unknown whether brain changes are linked to changes in mental health, despite examples of chronic adversity being linked to poor mental health.

Furthermore, the researcher said that the pandemic doesn't just impact teenagers' brains and mental health, but also, some of them had "reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume."

Jonas Miller, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Gotlib’s lab, said that "you have this global event that’s happening, where everyone is experiencing some kind of adversity in the form of disruption to their daily routines – so it might be the case that the brains of kids who are 16 or 17 today are not comparable to those of their counterparts just a few years ago.”