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Youths’ brains age faster from stress

by Jericho Zafra

Trigger warning: suicide

WHILE the pandemic has been leaving permanent imprints in people’s way of life and the economy and healthcare, it seems the crisis is yet to end.

A recent study from Standford University published by Biological Psychiatry Global Open Science found that teenage brains might be aging faster due to pandemic stress.

According to the research, the COVID-19 pandemic has substantially influenced adolescent mental health, worsening rates of anxiety, suicidal ideation, and sadness. However, the latest analysis found that it could have also aged their brains in the next few years. 

“The pandemic has not been kind to adolescent mental health,” said the study’s lead author, Ian Gotlib, in a media report.

Stanford University researchers compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 128 adolescents aged 15 to 18 years old prior to the pandemic to MRI scans from their peers collected during the global health crisis.

“We found that youth assessed after the pandemic shutdowns had more severe internalizing mental health problems,” the researchers said in the study.

However, researchers are still determining whether the brain changes will have an effect in the future. The researchers intend to scan the same children again to study their brain growth. They also believe that their brain changes might have been an initial reaction to a “stressor” that will stabilize throughout time, said Gotlib.

Despite being age-matched, their brains seemed older than the other participants. The result indicated the strain people felt throughout the pandemic and the consequences it had on their mental health and brain, he noted in the report.

Meanwhile, the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5) from the University of the Philippines Population Institute found that the number of young Filipinos who frequently felt lonely, depressed, and hated by others rose dramatically between 2013 and 2021.

Screenshot from UPPI’s 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study

  The 2021 survey involved 10,949 randomly selected youth aged 15 to 24 from over 900 barangays across the country. 

According to the report, some 574,000 or 3 percent of Filipino youth tried ending their life in 2013. By 2021, that figure rose to 7.5 percent or approximately 1.5 million Filipino teens.

“Incidentally, data collection for YAFS5 was conducted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby physical and social isolation may have gravely affected young people’s disposition,” the UPPI statement said.


If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) hotline at 0917-899-USAP (8727); (02) 7-989-USAP; or 1553 (landline to landline, toll-free).

They can also reach out to #MentalHealthPH



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