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

Hena Thakur, Morgan Stutts, Jae Wan Choi, Jeff R. Temple, Joseph R. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


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. In response, we examined pre-pandemic risk factors for pandemic loneliness. Further, we examined how risk may differ based on key demographics, and whether mediation or moderation models best explained potential disparities in experiencing 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), we 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). 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. Implications for mental health prevention in the wake of national disasters are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-639
Number of pages23
JournalChild Indicators Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Loneliness
  • Longitudinal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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