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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. Keywords COVID-19 · protective factors · risk · resilience · young adulthood Introduction * Lilly Shanahan The field of risk and resilience research aims to identify risk firstname.lastname@example.org factors, or “stressors,” that increase a person’s probability of developing psychopathology (Kraemer et al., 1997). It Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, University of Zurich, Andreasstrasse 15, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland also strives to identify individual and contextual protective factors that contribute to better-than-expected well-being Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestrasse 14, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland (i.e., resilience) in the face of such risks (e.g., Rutter, 2013). Classic studies of resilience have identified notable Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, protective factors (e.g., Masten, 2001; Rutter, 1990; Werner, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, University of Zurich, 1993). Modifiable ones include warm and supportive social Lenggstrasse 31, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland relationships, adaptive self-regulation, and self-efficacy, for University Hospital of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry example. Less easily modifiable protective factors include and Psychotherapy, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland being likeable, having an “easy” temperament, cognitive Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, skills and intelligence, and higher socioeconomic status Edinburgh, UK (Masten et al., 2021). Meilen Institute Zurich, Stockerstrasse 45, CH-8002 Zurich, Progress in risk and resilience research has been notable Switzerland as the field expanded from delineating the phenomenon of Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick resilience to developing interventions based on identifiable Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA, UK Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science protective factors to improve people’s well-being (Masten to advance the science of risk and resilience by observing et al., 2021). Despite this progress, the mental health of ado- how young people perceived and coped with this new situ- lescents and young adults in the Western world has declined ation (Roubinov et al., 2020). Surprisingly, several studies since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with adolescents’ conducted in the first few months of the pandemic revealed and young adults’ rates of depression and anxiety reach- that a sizable minority of people (typically between 19 and ing historically high levels (e.g., Keyes et al., 2019; Twenge 35%) reported better mental health during the pandemic than et al., 2019). Similarly, their rates of self-destructive behav- before (e.g., Luthar et al., 2021; Panzeri et al., 2021; Penner ior, such as non-suicidal self-injury, suicidal behavior, and et al., 2021; Shanahan et al., 2022; Silk et al., 2021; Soneson drug overdoses, reached all-time highs (e.g., Monto et al., et al., 2022). Indeed, in some of these studies, only a minor- 2018; Patalay & Gage, 2019). As the pandemic became a ity of participants reported significantly worse well-being chronic stressor, many young people’s mental health issues during the pandemic than before. But what accounted for were aggravated (e.g., Racine et al., 2021). In response, improved or stable mental health during the first few weeks leading health officials, including the U.S. Surgeon General, of the pandemic despite the presence of a potentially severe declared a mental health crisis among young people (Office stressor that undoubtedly disrupted people’s lives? Insights of the U.S. Surgeon General, 2021). into this question could provide important new lessons for The causes of the upsurge in young people’s men- risk and resilience research. tal health problems – even before the pandemic – are not We surveyed young adults in Zurich, Switzerland, twice: fully understood. Declines in economic and labor market in late May, 2020, after the end of the first lockdown, and prospects likely undermine mental health, and the role of again in mid-September, 2020, after a relatively COVID- and increased use of social and digital media is being clarified restrictions-free summer. What did summer 2020 look like (e.g., Muller et al., 2020; Odgers & Jensen, 2020; Twenge Switzerland in terms of COVID-19-related measures and et al., 2020). Arguably, the pace of insights from the field of restrictions? In June 2020, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, risk and resilience has not kept up with the pace of declines and public spaces (temporarily) reopened. Gatherings of in mental health. Indeed, the field invariably examines the groups with more than five people were permitted again, same set of risk factors, including, for example, poverty, including in restaurants. Sports facilities and swimming maltreatment, or family history of mental health problems pools reopened. Select educational institutions for older (Franklin et al., 2017), and, similarly, the same modifiable adolescents and young adults (e.g., vocational schools) protective factors (e.g., social support). While these factors reopened (Kohler et al., 2020). Beginning in late June, are important, their repeated investigation may not greatly events for up to 300 people were allowed to take place enhance insights into young people’s mental health develop- again (although this option was not exercised by many event ment (Franklin et al., 2017). organizers). In sum, many COVID-19-related restrictions How can we accelerate the pace of gaining new that had limited young adults’ social lives were (temporarily) conceptual insights for the field of risk and resilience lifted in the summer of 2020, although the Swiss government research? Young people themselves could help generate urged the population to remain cautious. new knowledge (Luthar et al., 2021). For example, youth At both measurement points, we asked young adults what can describe the factors that enhance or dampen their well- they experienced as the best and the worst aspects of their being – in their own words – rather than on pre-defined lives during the pandemic. Switzerland, like many places, measures. Young people’s answers can then be analyzed, had also seen an emerging youth mental health crisis since using bottom-up techniques, to identify the key themes before the pandemic: Similar to the US, depressive symp- that are common to their answers (Braun & Clarke, 2006). toms among young people in Switzerland had increased Newly identified themes can then inform new insights into for more than a decade before the pandemic (Schweizer- risk and protective processes in mental health development, isches Gesundheitsobservatorium [Swiss Health Observa- and also serve as the basis for developing new measures for tory], 2020). Furthermore, there was a strong increase in quantitative studies in risk and resilience research. psychiatric in- and outpatient services use in this age-group (Schuler et al., 2017). Our study analyzed young adults’ responses about their well-being during the pandemic using The COVID‑19 pandemic as an opportunity inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The to advance the science of risk and resilience ultimate aim of this study was to generate new insights that can also inform quantitative research on risk and resilience The COVID-19 pandemic constituted a novel stressor faced going forward. by virtually all young people beginning in 2020. This natu- ralistic stressor paradigm also provided a unique opportunity 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science A total of n=517 participants completed at least one of Methods the open-ended questions during these assessments. The total number of qualitative statements was N=1,462. The online Sample and procedures COVID-19 surveys required approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete; participants were entered into a lottery to win Data came from the Zurich Project on the Social Devel- one of 50 prizes of about $100. Participants provided written opment from Childhood to Adulthood (z-proso), a pro- online informed consent for their study participation. Ethical spective-longitudinal study (Ribeaud et al., 2022). The st approval was obtained by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty study recruited children who entered 1 grade in one of of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Zurich. The 56 public primary schools in Zurich in 2004. The initial authors assert that all procedures contributing to this work target sample of schools was selected using random sam- comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and pling procedures (slightly oversampling disadvantaged institutional committees on human experimentation and with school districts). Consistent with Switzerland’s immigra- the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008. For a tion policies and Zurich’s diverse population, parents of timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland during participants were born in over 80 countries. Parental edu- our study period, see p. 564 of Steinhoff et al. (2021). cational background was diverse: 26.2% of families had more than one parent with a university degree. The mean Measures household International Socioeconomic Index (ISEI) of occupational status (Ganzeboom et al., 1992) score was Participants were asked two open-ended questions at 45.74 (SD=19.24). This is an internationally comparable the end of the late-May and mid-September COVID-19 index of socioeconomic status based on occupation-spe- surveys, respectively. In May, we asked the following cific income and required educational level [range = 16 question (in German): 1. Thinking back to the time since (e.g., unskilled worker) to 90 (e.g., judge)]. the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March : The original study consisted of eight assessment waves, What was, for you personally, the worst thing about the at ages 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 20 (Ribeaud et al., 2022). COVID-19 crisis? Please describe it in a few words in the In April 2020, all participants (mean age 22.5 years old) space below. 2. And what was, for you personally, the best who had participated in the age 20 assessment in 2018 thing about the COVID-19 pandemic? Please describe it (N=1,180) were invited to participate in an online COVID- in a few words in the space below. These questions were 19 study. Of the eligible participants, n=21 could not be also asked in mid-September, but using the “COVID-19 reached due to invalid contact information or unclear status. summer” as the reference frame. Out of n=1,159 participants contacted, n=786 responded to the mid-April 2020 survey within one week (67.8% of Data analysis age 20 sample). Respondents in the age 22 COVID-19 sur- veys were more likely to be female and to come from a non- Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Thematic analy- migrant background compared to those who participated in sis allows the identification of key themes in large bodies the first z-proso assessment at age 7 (see also, Shanahan of qualitative data. Because this was a novel research topic, et al., 2022). In total, four COVID-19 data collections took an inductive (data-driven) bottom-up approach was used. place in mid-April (n=786), early May (n=650), late May Each answer was given equal attention in the coding pro- (n=569), and mid-September 2020 (n=525). We used the cess and was analyzed without a pre-existing framework last two COVID-19 surveys for the current analysis. or codebook. This approach allows for the identification of Open-ended questions about young adults’ best and worst unanticipated insights, and, thus, the generation of new data- experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic were collected driven research questions in the future. We used a semantic twice, during the late May and the mid-September 2020 data approach; thus, only explicit meaning was coded, without collections. These questions were added to our COVID-19 interpreting the underlying meaning, reasons, or tone. Cir- assessment batteries in response to results from our initial cumstances changed rapidly between May and September lockdown data collection, which revealed that almost one 2020; therefore, we analyzed the answers provided during in five participants reported better well-being during the each assessment separately. For a detailed description of the first few weeks of the lockdown than before the pandemic analytic process, see Braun and Clarke (2006). (Shanahan et al., 2022). To investigate this finding, we added Each answer was coded using the NVivo software. the open-ended question to the May 21-27 2020 assessment, Given the large quantity of answers, three levels of abstrac- which took place after the first COVID-19 lockdown, and tion – codes, subthemes, and themes (from specific to more to the September 10-16 2020 assessment, which took place generic) – were necessary to arrive at the final overarching after a relatively measures- and restrictions-free summer. 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science sets of “best” and “worst” themes. First, we created codes based on participants’ answers. Subsequently, we summa- rized similar codes into larger subthemes. Similar subthemes were then classified into larger themes. Because the coding was inductive, no codebook with predefined themes was used. We used the online Miro data visualization tool and mind maps within this tool to categorize codes into subthemes and themes. The Miro software emulates creating “sticky notes” of each code and grouping them together based on similarities. Thus, each code was given the same level of attention, regardless of the number of times it was coded. In the next stage, themes were compared to the original text to ensure that they were representative of the data. Because the survey was conducted in German, the analyses of the answers were conducted by two native German speakers. Themes, codes, and example quotes were then translated into English via back translation. Table 1a contains examples of how answers were coded, and then assigned to a subtheme and theme. Most codes were classified into a single theme; however, some codes were assigned to more than one theme (see Table 1b). Thematic analysis typically does not employ a positiv- ist approach to data analysis (such as counting the number of answers represented in each theme). However, due to the large number of descriptions in our study (N=1,462), we report how many times a code was assigned and which themes were generated from the most common codes. This does not indicate that certain themes are more important than others, but it does indicate the frequency with which themes were coded in participants’ answers. A PhD student and a research assistant with a MSc degree and no previ- ous experience in risk and resilience research conducted the thematic analysis. No codebook was used to train raters on “accurate” coding (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Rather, devel- oping the codes was an organic process that evolved in the coding process. Therefore, we do not report inter-rater reli- ability for “accurate” coding. Results Demographic characteristics of respondents Table 2 presents descriptive statistics. The majority of young adults in the analytic sample were female, lived in shared households, and had a medium level of education (i.e., they had completed vocational/compulsory education, were currently in education/training, or were employed). Consistent with the diverse Zurich population, 42% of participants were from families where both parents had come to Switzerland from abroad, including from Serbia/Kosovo, Germany, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, among other countries. 1 3 Table 1 Illustrations of how quotes were coded and then assigned to subthemes and themes a) Examples of how answers were coded and then assigned to larger subthemes and overarching themes Quote ➔ Code ➔ Subtheme ➔ Theme “That I passed my training without having to sit an exam. An absolute highlight!” Passed semester/studies automatically No exam stress Positive changes in work and education “At the beginning and until mid-May all gyms were closed. Next to my studies I need exercise for bal- Gyms closed and no team sports Closed public spaces Restrictions of freedom ance, and without open gyms it is much harder to motivate myself to exercise as much.” “That I couldn’t exercise my hobby. Gyms closed and no team sports Closed public spaces Restrictions of freedom I could not play football with my football team.” “No longer being able to go to restaurants and only seeing certain people.” Closing of bars and restaurants Closed public spaces Restrictions of freedom b) Example of a participant’s answer that was subsequently included in two different codes Quote ➔ Codes “The uncertainty. Sometimes I have the feeling that the problems we are faced with will change every- Uncertainty (future) thing. With that I mean the climate crisis, macrobiotics developing resistance, political instabilities Worry etc. There is a huge fear of the future tied to that, the feeling of maybe never being able to build a family or to find a job. The Corona crisis sometimes feels like a rolling stone.” Adversity and Resilience Science Table 2 Descriptive statistics for respondents who participated either Best, theme 2: personal growth and resilience in the late-May or in the mid-September z-proso COVID-19 survey (coded n=54 times) or both (N=517) Mean SD N % Personal growth and resilience were reported by many. This included focusing on the positive aspects of difficult situa- Female 313 60.5 tions, learning to handle crisis situations, being thankful, Age 22.5 0.36 and appreciating what one has, where one lives, the people Family ISEI (range: 16-90) 53.9 19.3 surrounding one, and health. Migration background (1=both 216 42.3 parents born abroad) “You learn to see the positive in difficult situations! Education (age 20) And to learn from it.” Low (NEET) 8 1.5 “Focusing on the really important things in life and Medium 323 62.5 maybe becoming more humble again.” High 186 36.0 Living alone 25 4.9 Note. ISEI: International Socioeconomic Index of occupational sta- Best, theme 3: positive changes in work tus; NEET: not in education, employment, or training. Age shown at and education (coded n=41 times) the time of the Spring 2020 COVID-19 surveys Another theme was positive changes in work and education. This included working from home (n=23) and successfully passing university/apprenticeship milestones without having The best about the lockdown: May 2020 to take (in-person) exams, meaning that exam stress was reduced or eliminated. We follow the guidelines established by Braun and Clarke (2019) in reporting our results. Table 3a indicates all gen- “Working comfortably from home.” erated themes and subthemes as well as their frequency; “Exams were cancelled.” Figure 1a presents a word cloud with codes and their frequency. Word clouds were created using tableau ver- sion 2020.4 and serve a visual illustration of our find- Best, theme 4: strengthening of relationships ings. They depict all codes that were coded more than (coded n=38 times) once; the colors show the theme that codes were catego- rized into. A full list of individual codes associated with Many participants reported strengthening relationships each subtheme can be found in the electronic appendix as the best aspect of lockdown. Forging new friendships, (Table S1a). Below, we describe the themes coded n ≥ 25 deepening existing ones, and social contact in general were times and provide example quotes. codes associated with this theme. Interestingly, the lockdown was described as a time to reevaluate who should be part of one’s life; several participants reported sorting out friends, Best, theme 1: more free time (coded n=349 times) seeing through people’s facades, or severing ties with “fake” people as the best aspects of the lockdown. For many participants, the best aspect of the lockdown was the deceleration of life (n=70, with n referring to the “A much stronger bond with my family.” number of times this theme was coded), having more free “I have realized how important some friendships are, time in general (n=37), and, in particular, having more and that some friends are not real friends at all.” time to fulfill one’s own needs (n=154). This included having more time for hobbies and sports, more time with loved ones, and more time to sleep, reflect, think, and Best, theme 5: temporary relief from concerns relax/recover. about climate change (coded n=26 times) “So much time for all the things that I have always Several participants expressed that the best aspect of wanted to do.” the lockdown was its positive effect on the environment, “FINALLY having some time for myself, without the including nature being able to “regenerate” and “recover” pressure or stress of having to do something else and the fact that fewer planes were flying and that city traffic (other than university work).” was reduced. 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science Table 3 Themes and subthemes that were coded as a) the best and b) the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in late May 2020 (a) The best about the lockdown: themes, subthemes, and frequency of coding Themes Times coded Subthemes Times coded More free time 349 More time for one’s own needs 154 Deceleration of life 70 More time with others/loved ones 59 More free time in general 37 More space/time for oneself 15 Gaining control of one’s own time 14 Personal growth and resilience 54 Resilience building 21 New focus in life 13 Gratitude/thankfulness for one’s own situation 10 Appreciation for own country/the society in which we ≤5 live Finding joy in the little things ≤5 Positive changes in work and education 41 Working from home 23 No exam stress 9 New opportunities ≤5 Work-related positive changes ≤5 Strengthening of relationships 38 Strengthening of relationships 33 Decisions about who should be part of one’s daily life ≤5 Temporary relief from concerns about climate change 26 Positive effect on nature/environment 26 Nothing 14 Nothing 14 Saving money 12 Saving money 12 Switzerland ≤5 Appreciating vacationing in and exploring Switzerland (b) The worst about the lockdown: themes, subthemes, and frequency of coding Themes Times coded Subthemes Times coded Changes to everyday life and society 129 Changes in terms of work/studies 44 Changes in everyday life 29 Less structure in daily life 26 More bored during pandemic 14 Less likely to be home alone 11 Other subthemes: Being pregnant is more difficult ≤5 during pandemic, changes to society, harder to find apartment Social distancing 127 Social distancing 127 Negative emotions 110 Uncertainty in the present moment and regarding future 50 Negative emotions (e.g., worry/fear, despair, hopeless- 36 ness) Fear that loved ones may be infected/affected by COVID 18 illness Worsening mental health 6 Restrictions to freedom 61 Closed public places 33 Travel restrictions 15 Restrictions of freedom 13 How politicians, media and others acted/handled the 30 Poor handling of situation by media and politicians 15 situation (criticism) How others acted/did or did not comply with measures 9 Disagreement, polarizations of opinions 6 Damage to economy affecting livelihood 19 Damage to economy affecting livelihood 19 Nothing ≤5 Nothing ≤5 People dying ≤5 That people are dying ≤5 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science a) The best about the lockdown, late May 2020. b) The worst about the lockdown, late May 2020 Figure 1 Word cloud with codes and frequency of coding. Color-coded by overarching theme. Larger font size indicates greater frequency “Of course also that nature can finally breathe again.” The worst about the lockdown: May 2020 In relation to the theme of more free time, nature was also Table 3b indicates all generated themes and subthemes and the mentioned repeatedly. Some respondents described spending frequency of coding (see also Figure 1b). A full list, including more time in nature and enjoying nature as the best elements individual codes associated with each subtheme can be found of lockdown. Others stated that they discovered hiking and in the electronic appendix (Table S1b). Below, we describe explored Switzerland. the themes endorsed by n ≥ 25 and provide example quotes. “On top of this, I was able to enjoy nature where I live more by going on walks.” Worst, theme 1: changes to everyday life and society (coded n=129 times) Additional best aspects of the pandemic themes that were coded n < 25 times included “nothing” (n=14), “saving For many young adults, changes to everyday life and society, money” (n=12), and “Switzerland” (i.e., exploring Swit- including changes to work and daily structure, constituted the zerland; n≤5). worst aspects of the Spring 2020 lockdown. Indeed, although the “best” themes indicated that many participants perceived positive elements associated with home office and education, others expressed that changes in their work and studies such 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science as transition to working or studying remotely was among Worst, theme 4: restrictions to freedom (coded n=61 the worst aspect of the pandemic (n=44). Some participants times) reported that they were not able to have alone-time at home (n=11; i.e., always being surrounded by other people in the Codes associated with the theme of restrictions to freedom home bothered them), or that they suffered from boredom and (n=61) included bans on gatherings, closed public places difficulties concentrating. Indeed, many participants were (shops, bars, restaurants), and travel restrictions. Another unable to maintain a daily routine and lacked structure (n=26). associated code was the closing of gyms, and being unable to engage in team sports (n=16). “That I don’t have a daily rhythm anymore and that I have to study at home.” “Not being able to do anything anymore.” “Being at home all the time.” “Not being able to exercise as usual.” Thus, while gaining control of one’s own time was reported as one of the best aspects of the pandemic by some, the change Worst, theme 5: how politicians, the media, in daily structure was considered a challenge by others. and others acted (coded n=30 times) Worst, theme 2: social distancing (coded n=127 Several participants expressed that how other people handled times) the situation was the worst aspect of the pandemic. This included the dissemination of misinformation and fearmon- Social distancing was among the most difficult aspects of the gering by politicians and the media (n=15), as well as others pandemic for young adults. This encompassed codes of not who did not comply with the imposed restrictions. seeing loved ones (n=51), and also a lack of physical contact (e.g., not hugging loved ones; n=10). “That the media presented everything sensationally and didn’t allow any peace.” “Not meeting up with friends and family.” Several respondents also referred to conspiracy theories “Not being able to hug loved ones (grandparents, par- and polarization of opinions (n=6): ents, siblings, close friends).” “That demonstrations happened and that some people Worst, theme 3: negative emotions (coded n=110 who participated in them believe in conspiracy theories times) and are spreading them through different channels.” Additional worst aspects of the pandemic themes that Many participants highlighted uncertainty about the present were coded n < 25 times included “damage to the economy, and the future as the most difficult aspects of the pandemic affecting livelihood” (n =19), “nothing” (n ≤ 5), and “that (n=50). people are dying” (n ≤ 5). “Uncertainty about the whole situation, the change to studying from home, work and exams, the fear that The best and the worst of the first COVID summer: something could happen to someone, the loss of social September 2020 assessment contact, etc.” We now briefly describe the primary findings from the Fall Indeed, several participants reported negative emotions, 2020 survey, which reflected back on summer 2020. Many such as despair, loneliness, fear, and powerlessness. The themes overlap with the findings from late May 2020. We feeling of fear was frequently associated with COVID-19-re- report on a few main themes, but mostly those that were lated illness (n=18); for example, fearing that their loved newly coded in September 2020. For a full list of themes ones would become infected or that they personally would and subthemes, see electronic appendix, Table S2 and infect a family member (e.g., grandparents). Figure S1). “Feeling alone.” More time (coded n=203 times) and personal “The worry of falling ill and infecting people around growth (coded n=57 times) me, mostly my parents, who are in the “at risk” group.” The theme of the deceleration of life was at the forefront Notably, a corresponding theme of “positive emotions” again (n=65). Indeed, having more time for hobbies and was not coded for the best aspects of the pandemic. personal needs (n=56), as well as more time with others (n=59), remained major themes. Strengthening relationships 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science through solidarity, spending more time with family, personal et al., 2021) has not generated the insights needed to reverse growth, and building resilience became dominant themes; this trend. participants noted that they had more patience and more During this status quo, the COVID-19 pandemic consti- time for reflection and growth. tuted an opportunity to uncover new knowledge for the sci- ence of risk and resilience (Roubinov et al., 2020). The first “The lockdown also meant slowdown, time to reflect lockdown collectively paused and interrupted life. Indeed, and space to mindfully review and come to terms with it provided people with the opportunity to re(assess) their one’s personal situation and ambitions.” life. Surprisingly, between 19-35% of people reported feel- “I used the time to reflect about my life and work. All ing better in the early months of the pandemic than before in all, the Corona situation did me some good.” (e.g., Luthar et al., 2021; Panzeri et al., 2021; Penner et al., 2021; Shanahan et al., 2022; Silk et al., 2021; Soneson Travel restrictions (coded n=73 times) et al., 2022). To investigate this pattern, we asked young adults directly to describe the best and the worst aspects of Many participants wrote that not being able to travel (to their early pandemic lives, with the aim of generating new other countries) was the worst aspect of the summer lock- insights into risk and protective processes. down. Some, however, also mentioned that their friends being nearby during the summer and spending additional The deceleration of life and a new‑found abundance time with them was the best aspect. A notable number of of free time participants stated that the best element of the COVID-19 summer was spending holidays in Switzerland and exploring For many young adults, having additional free time was the their own country (n=37). best aspect of the lockdown/pandemic, and positively con- trasted with a perceived lack of time beforehand. The time “The newly found time and that almost all my friends necessary for work/education, commuting, consuming social were in Zurich and not travelling abroad. Everyone and digital media, socializing, and completing mundane was more available and therefore able to be more tasks (e.g., errands, doctor’s appointments) often exceeds spontaneous.” young people’s time resources. Although structured activi- “I did not have the feeling of ‘oh this year I have to ties can protect young people’s mental health (Mahoney & travel somewhere by plane.’ You can also have won- Vest, 2012), overscheduling, time pressures, and perceived derful vacations in Switzerland.” lack of control over one’s time can induce stress, anxiety, and depression (e.g., Abeles, 2016; Brown et al., 2011; Always having to be careful (coded n=11 times) Luthar et al., 2020). Indeed, when time resources are scarce, healthy behaviors (e.g., exercise, sleep) are often reduced Within the overarching theme of negative emotions, a new or abandoned, meaning that these reliable mood boosters subtheme was coded: Wariness about always having to be no longer shield overscheduled young people from mental careful. This included worrying about whether to go some- health problems. where, how other people would perceive one if one did, The collective slow-down in Spring 2020 provided and finding it stressful to meet people. In contrast, only young adults with the unprecedented opportunity to relin- one participant expressed this in the Spring 2020 survey. quish activities and relationships that they did not enjoy. Furthermore, their “fear-of-missing-out” (FOMO) on “Always having to be careful when too many people exciting events (e.g., Oberst et al., 2017) was eliminated. are gathered in one place.” Many young people used the additional time to improve their self-knowledge and to pursue rewarding and resil- ience-building activities. These included newly (re)discov- Discussion ered hobbies and time spent in meaningful relationships, in nature, and engaging in healthy behaviors. Previous Risk and resilience research has laid important foundations quantitative work also suggested that time devoted to for and made substantial progress in understanding the hobbies, healthy behaviors, and nature, and identifying development of psychopathology and better-than-expected positive aspects of the situation were correlated with posi- adjustment in the face of risk (e.g., Masten, 2001; Rutter, tive during-pandemic well-being (e.g., Lades et al., 2020; 1990; Werner, 1993). Nevertheless, we have seen historic Shanahan et al., 2022; Silk et al., 2021). declines in young people’s mental health (Keyes et al., 2019; Perhaps, the newfound abundance of free time emerged Twenge et al., 2019), and the repeated investigation of long- as the best aspect of the pandemic simply because other appreciated concepts and well-accepted measures (Luthar 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science positive aspects were lacking. Indeed, even the additional comparisons, which likely contributed to a relief from pres- free time was also not enjoyed by all, ranking among the sures (e.g., Luthar et al., 2020; Silk et al., 2021). worst aspects of the pandemic for some. Those who had Work and education also involve many enjoyable aspects, previously achieved a balanced time budget may have which young adults missed during the lockdown. For exam- struggled with the disruption of their routine. Such strug- ple, they reported missing the energizing and motivating gles may have been more prominent for extraverted young aspects of in-person contact, the technical infrastructure adults (Wijngaards et al., 2020) and those living alone necessary to complete tasks efficiently, and the separation (Steinhoff et al., 2021) – who may have felt particularly of work and life, which was often not possible in their home isolated, lonely, and bored during the lockdown. Further- office setup. more, although FOMO with respect to current events was Implications: Risk and resilience research needs to rou- reduced (see also, Elmer et al., 2020), it intensified with tinely assess risk and protective factors related to young peo- respect to the attainment of developmental milestones that ple’s educational and workplace settings. These are impor- typically constitute a successful transition to adulthood. tant to understand, given also the “great resignation” (or Implications: Risk and resilience research needs to quitting work) trend that has affected some (young) workers assess young people’s perceived time pressures, over- in Western labor forces (Ksinan Jiskrova, 2022), and which scheduling, and signs of burnout (e.g., Tuominen-Soini & may be due, in part, to the mental health costs and pressures Salmela-Aro, 2014). The sociological literature on “role of jobs that are not sustainable in the long-term. In turn, strain” has examined the difficulties of balancing multiple positive workplace social interactions and meaningful work commitments and obligations in middle adulthood (e.g., can promote mental health. Goode, 1960); such time and role strains have also become a prominent challenge of young adulthood. Disruption, change, and uncertainty Overscheduled young adults may benefit from sched- uled free time, or mini-sabbaticals, during non-pandemic Disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty times to improve their self-knowledge and personal devel- were among the strongest correlates of emotional distress in opment, to reflect on their life and their values, and to previous quantitative work; this was further illuminated by pursue rewarding and resilience-building activities (e.g., the qualitative data. Young adults were especially concerned Ceary et al., 2019). Occasionally “hitting the pause but- about the disruptions to routines and uncertainties related ton” may also allow young people to (re)discover the sim- to their educational and professional futures. In addition, ple pleasures of life that sometimes get lost in the over- they worried about potential illness, and the future (per- stimulation of the digital era. Because FOMO is a threat sonal, societal, global), including disruptions to their life to mental health (e.g., Oberst et al., 2017), scheduling plans. Indeed, several participants noted that the increased free time collectively, or at the institutional level (e.g., in difficulty of achieving the expected milestones of young college, in young adults’ workplaces), may be particularly adulthood (e.g., interviewing for jobs, changing jobs, get- beneficial. It should not take a global pandemic for young ting married, becoming a parent) was the worst aspect of people to find time and space for personal growth. the pandemic for them. Difficulties with tolerating uncertainty can be fertile Work and educational pressures grounds for intensifying anxiety and depression (e.g., Car- leton et al., 2012; Peters et al., 2017). Indeed, a recently Young adulthood is a significant period of educational and updated definition of stress emphasizes uncertainty as a key professional development and is often accompanied by component: stress is “… the individual state of uncertainty heavy workloads and time commitments, high-stakes test- about what needs to be done to safeguard physical, mental ing, and stressful new job market experiences (e.g., Arnett, or social wellbeing” (p. 184, Peters et al., 2017). Yet, uncer- 2000); many young people suffer from these pressures (e.g., tainty and rapid change may be a constant of current times. Luthar et al., 2020; Luthar et al., 2021). Before the pan- Implications: Young people’s flexibility and skills to demic, high-stakes educational testing was linked with men- cope with uncertainty and change may be key mechanisms tal distress and self-injury in this sample (Steinhoff et al., to increase resilience (e.g., Birrell et al., 2011). Our Sep- 2020). The reduction of work and educational pressures tember 2020 results supported this, with some young adults during the pandemic, and having more time to take breaks reporting an increased sense of agency and self-efficacy after and recover while working or studying remotely was a posi- successfully having mastered novel challenges during the tive aspect for many. Physical distance also came with the pandemic. elimination of in-person stressors such as bullying, com- petitive work/educational situations, and unfavorable social 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science Climate change Screen time and social and digital media Concerns about the climate crisis constitute significant psy - Increases in social and digital media use have coincided chological stressors, but remain understudied (Doherty & with declines in young people’s mental health (e.g., Twenge Clayton, 2011). Similar to economic stressors, climate cri- et al., 2020). Yet, social media use does not exert a uniformly sis concerns/ecoanxiety constitute chronic existential fears negative influence (Odgers & Jensen, 2020). In the current (e.g., Dodds, 2021). Individuals’ control over climate change study, young adults did not mention social and digital media is limited. Furthermore, concerns about climate change are as the best or the worst aspects of the pandemic. An excep- often accompanied by disappointment in other people’s or tion was the humor of COVID-memes, which was reported society’s (lack of) actions, possibly compounding stress. As to be the best aspect of the pandemic by a few. the climate crisis worsens, such concerns will likely amplify Why were social and digital media not mentioned as young people’s resignation and hopelessness (Fritze et al., a negative aspect? First, social media was often the only 2008). In turn, our findings suggest that measures to slow means for maintaining social contact during physically or pause climate change (e.g., reduction in global travel and distanced times. Combined with our findings that people city traffic during lockdowns) enhance hope and well-being primarily focused on positive social relationships during among climate-concerned young adults. the lockdown, while abandoning negative ones, social Implications: Climate crisis-related stressors are sig- media engagement could have (temporarily) lost some nificant concerns that warrant inclusion in future risk and of its potentially negative effects (e.g., Gadassi Polack resilience research. Organizing young people to engage in et al., 2021). Second, during the lockdown, venues for constructive, concrete steps to combat climate change may gatherings and parties (e.g., restaurants, clubs, concerts) benefit their mental health. closed. Thus, FOMO-induced stress as a negative aspect of social media (e.g., Oberst et al., 2017) was temporarily Divisions in society, fatigue from restrictions, eliminated. Third, although the absolute amount of time cautions, and chronic pandemic‑stress spent on social media likely increased during the pan- demic, it may have detracted less from engaging in healthy Many of the reported best and worst aspects of the pan- or other enjoyable activities than during non-pandemic demic were the same in Spring and Fall 2020: more free times – given the greater abundance of free time during time was among the best aspects, and the imposed restric- the pandemic. tions and social distancing were among the worst aspects Implications: The impact of interacting with social and at each assessment. In the Spring, some participants had digital media on young people’s well-being is varied. Not initially mentioned solidarity and “sticking together” as the a single young adult reported social media as the worst best aspects. Yet, beginning in the Spring, and even moreso aspect of the pandemic in our study. Social media involve- in the Fall of 2020, participants increasingly reported other ment needs to be more routinely assessed to understand its people’s reactions to the pandemic – including pandemic- impact on risk and resilience in different contexts. related behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, the division and polarization of opinions, and losing common ground with Interim summary and implications others – as the worst aspects of the pandemic. The Fall 2020 responses also highlighted the increasing While exposed to a historic novel stressor, and amidst a chronicity and wear and tear from pandemic-related stress- youth mental health crisis, young adults had the chance to ors. For example, young adults reported being fatigued from (re)assess their lives. Insights into their well-being during having to comply with ever-changing restrictions and con- the pandemic can inform future risk and resilience research. tinuously having to be cautious. These findings are consist- Emerging themes included time pressures and educational/ ent with reports that mental health problems became more work pressures that take away from free time for hobbies, common later in the pandemic (Racine et al., 2021). important others, self-development, health behaviors, and Implications: Perceived cohesion/solidarity versus divi- the development of resilience skills. Themes also revolved sion of society are understudied factors that likely influence around climate change concerns, divisions in society, the young people’s well-being. Such factors may be especially global future, and difficulties adjusting to disruptions, uncer - salient during times of social change, suggesting a source of tainty, and change. These themes highlight that many of the risk originating at the societal level. The changing nature and stressors faced by young adults involve systemic structural increasing chronicity of (pandemic-related) stressors needs and societal factors that young adults have limited control to be captured in empirical risk and resilience research. over. Society and organizations, including work places and 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science schools, must contribute to changes that reduce risk and research has focused on children or adolescents, and the increase mental health resilience in young people. best and worst aspects of the pandemic likely differ for From a methodological point of view, our findings sup- these age groups. port the need for statistical models that capture the com- Fourth, findings may not generalize to other countries. plexity of risk and resilience processes. For example, more Switzerland underwent a lockdown, but did not enforce free time was the best aspect of the pandemic for some stay-at-home measures with law enforcement and also did young adults, but the worst for others. Measurement and not implement curfews. At the time, it also did not struggle analytic strategies must capture such heterogeneity in with other acute political crises (e.g., social unrest, police- response to stressors. Many factors could have further based violence) which could have further increased young modified the effect of more free time on well-being, includ- people’s vulnerability to hopelessness and mental health ing living arrangements, family and work situations, and problems. Furthermore, the health system in Zurich was socioeconomic status (e.g., Elmer et al., 2020; Steinhoff not overwhelmed during our study period. The lack of et al., 2021). Variable-centered analytic approaches that link extreme measures, other societal crises, or overburdening population-level averages to one another often fail to cap- of the health care system may explain, at least in part, why ture such important nuances. Person-centered approaches the pandemic was not a uniformly negative experience for with the capacity to model complex, multi-dimensional, young people. dynamic interactions are key to understanding risk and Fifth, the COVID-19 pandemic was an ever-chang- resilience (e.g., Bergman & Magnusson, 1997; Muthen & ing stressor, and risk and resilience processes are indeed Muthen, 2000). dynamic (Masten et al., 2021). Although we captured pan- An important next step in research includes theoretical demic life at two different time points, risk and protective thinking about the potential underlying causal mechanisms processes likely shifted as the pandemic lasted many addi- that link the factors identified here with well-being. tional months. Sixth, findings may not generalize to other Furthermore, research should measure the newly identified types of crises that are characterized by different sets of potential risk and protective factors and their putative causal stressors, such as wars, and the many traumas associated mechanisms in quantitative research and examine which with them. Undoubtedly, each macro-level stressor has of the protective factors identified here optimally shield unique implications for risk and resilience. Nevertheless, (which) young adults from stress, depression and anxiety, we did identify factors that may generalize to other settings and other conditions underlying the youth mental health of stress. Indeed, most participants provided answers that crisis. Ideally, the speed of the scientific process in the field compared and contrasted their during-pandemic life with of risk and resilience – including its iterations of getting their pre-pandemic life (e.g., having more time for hobbies input from young people, to developing theories and relevant during the pandemic than before). Seventh, the risk and pro- measures, and testing them – needs to be increased. This tective factors discussed here may be specific to some out- may require the field to embrace qualitative data, and the comes (e.g., internalizing problems), and may not generalize methods to fully harvest them, more than before. to others (e.g., externalizing problems). Finally, although inductive thematic analysis was well- Constraints on generalizability and additional suited for identifying novel themes for risk and resilience limitations research, it was beyond the scope of this paper to quantify 1) the association of the newly identified themes with quantitative Our study analyzed N=1,462 responses that described measures of mental health, 2) the relative importance of the young adults’ best and worst experiences with the COVID- themes to mental health, and 3) how participants’ answers to 19 pandemic; it also came with limitations. First, as with the open-ended questions differed by their sociodemographic most longitudinal studies, there was some attrition across characteristics or prior levels of stress and mental health. With assessments of the z-proso study and its COVID-19 sur- new themes having been identified, we encourage addressing veys. Females and those with a Swiss background were these questions in future quantitative research. more likely than males and those with a migrant back- ground to participate in the COVID surveys; a small num- ber of respondents skipped the open-ended section (which Conclusion was placed at the end of the survey). Second, inductive thematic analysis is not a method designed to rank themes The field of risk and resilience research has made tremen- in their importance or to explain the reasons for why par- dous progress through its various waves and iterations, ticipants mentioned them. Third, our study exclusively including by leveraging natural and man-made disasters examined young adults. Much previous risk and resilience (e.g., hurricanes, ice-storms, mining-accidents) as scientific 1 3 Adversity and Resilience Science opportunities to gain new insights (e.g., Masten et al., 2021). References Our study illustrates the value of going beyond tradition- Abeles, V. (2016). 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Adversity and Resilience Science – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 1, 2023
Keywords: COVID-19; protective factors; risk; resilience; young adulthood
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