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COVID-19 Pandemic Caused Teens' Brains to Age Faster, New Study Finds

Young Adult Mental Health
Young Adult Mental Health

Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic likely caused teenagers' brains to age faster than normal, according to a new study.

The study, which was published Thursday in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, analyzed MRI scans of 128 teens in the United States, half of which were taken before the pandemic and the other half taken at the end of 2020.

Researchers found that the youth assessed after the pandemic had more severe mental health problems and more advanced brain age. Additionally, the youth assessed also had thinning in the part of the brain that controls executive functioning and growth in the parts of the brain that help regulate fear and stress and controls access to memories.

Ian Gotlib, psychology professor at Stanford University and lead author of the study, told CNN that researchers expected to see issues with anxiety, depression and internalized problems but didn't know what to expect from the MRIs.

"The pandemic has not been kind to adolescent mental health," he added.

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"This was just a one-year shutdown, so we didn't know that the effects on the brain would be this pronounced after that short a period of stress," Gotlib told the outlet. "It tracks with the mental health difficulties that we're seeing."

Experts say parents should address any mental health problems their children may be facing, and urge them to not assume mental health struggles have gone away following the end of COVID lockdowns and school closures.

"Be sure that your adolescent or your teen is getting any help that he or she, that they, might need if they're experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety," Gotlib added.

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