Young people’s mental and social distress in times of international crisis: evidence from helpline calls, 2019–2022

We document mental and social distress of children, adolescents and adults, using data on 3 million calls to German helplines between January 2019 and May 2022. High-frequency data from crisis helpline logs offer rich information on the evolution of “revealed distress” among the most vulnerable, unaffected by researchers’ study design and framing. Distress of adults, measured by the volume of calls, rose significantly after both the outbreak of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In contrast, the overall revealed distress of children and adolescents did not increase during those crises. The nature of young people’s concerns, however, changed more strongly than for adults after the COVID-19 outbreak. Consistent with the effects of social distancing, call topics of young people shifted from problems with school and peers to problems with family and mental health. We find the share of severe mental health problems among young people to have increased with a delay, in the second and third year of the pandemic.

with Valentin Klotzbücher and Rafael Lalive. Scientific Reports, 13(11858), 2023. See manuscript