In the face of adversity: promoting mental health and well-being among adversity-exposed adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, adolescent anxiety and depression doubled globally, and rates of mental health distress remain unacceptably high among Californian adolescents. Of note, certain groups of adolescents were at higher risk of developing mental health conditions. Some studies have shown that youth who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) (potentially traumatic events that occur before age 18), discrimination, and unsafe neighborhoods were at higher risk of developing a mental health condition during the pandemic than youth who had never experienced traumatic events. Pre-pandemic studies have shown that experiencing adversity and being from a racial or ethnic minority or being female further elevates a person’s risk of developing impaired mental health.

However, we need additional, detailed studies to better understand this relationship between childhood adversity and mental health and well-being among adolescents from varying racial/ethnic backgrounds and genders. In addition, many adolescents who have experienced significant adversity did not develop adolescent mental health conditions and instead reported high levels of emotional well-being. Initial studies have suggested that exercise, close relationships, and school engagement help protect mental health and promote resilience. We need large and detailed studies to establish whether this is true for adolescents from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds and across genders. Thus, through our project, we aim to understand:

  1. the relationship between childhood adversity and mental health conditions and
  2. resilience factors that promote mental health among diverse youth

This information will be critical in designing clinical, school, and health policy recommendations to help promote adolescent mental health and well-being today and in future catastrophic events. As one in eight adolescents live in California, if we learn to better support Californian youth, we will make a significant contribution to adolescent health nationally. 



  • UC San Diego Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study 
  • UCSF Youth Advisory Board
  • UCLA-UCSF ACEs Aware Family Resilience Network (UCAAN)

Other Children and Adolescents Funded Projects

MTOTO: Mobilizing Towards Outcomes Through advOcacy

Kala Mehta headshot
Kala Mehta
UCSF, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics