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Adolescent Loneliness during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Pre-Pandemic Risk Factors

NCJ Number
Child Indicators Research Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: 2023 Pages: 617–639
Date Published
23 pages

This study assesses the role of pre-pandemic risk factors in the development of loneliness among adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic.


This study examined pre-pandemic risk factors for pandemic loneliness as well as how risk may differ based on key demographics, and whether mediation or moderation models best explained potential disparities in experiencing loneliness. Overall, pre-pandemic depressive and aggression symptoms predicted early pandemic loneliness (6-month follow-up), whereas anxiety symptoms specifically predicted mid-pandemic loneliness (12-month follow-up). Environmental stressors were moderated by gender, such that females with pre-pandemic trauma exposure were more likely to report pandemic loneliness. Further, pre-pandemic internalizing distress for girls and externalizing symptoms for boys, reflected gender-specific pathways for loneliness. Self-reported, pre-pandemic mental health, trauma exposure, and family conflict survey data were collected at Wave 1 in a diverse sample of 369 adolescents (54.5% female, 45.5% male; 30.1% White; 30.9% Black; 18.4% Hispanic; Mage = 15.04; SDage = 1.10). Subsequently, self-reported experiences of loneliness during the pandemic were collected 6 months (April-June 2020) and 12 months (October-December 2020) later. Using a regression-based framework (i.e., PROCESS), the authors tested (a) which pre-pandemic risks uniquely predicted prospective loneliness and (b) whether loneliness risk was elevated for certain identities (i.e., mediation models) or whether certain identities were more sensitive to specific risks (i.e., moderation models). Implications for mental health prevention in the wake of national disasters are discussed. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global mental health crisis that disproportionately impacts adolescents. Loneliness is a particularly salient pandemic psychosocial outcome to understand; however, research to date on this outcome is sparse and largely cross-sectional. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023