The years of the pandemic have been tough on everyone, but a new study from DePaul University suggests they’ve been especially hard on young Latinos. Researchers studied 1,200 elementary and middle school CPS students over the last four years and found that Latino students are up to twice as likely to be at risk for depression and anxiety. This was even more pronounced among Latina girls and Latinx nonbinary students.
The study’s lead author, clinical psychology professor Antonio Polo at DePaul University, explained how the study arrived at its findings.
“We were collecting this information even prior to the pandemic,” Polo said. “And so we identified … the rates of depression before the pandemic and during the pandemic, and the sample was primarily elementary school students and middle school students 11 to 14 years old, and the rates of anxiety and depression were particularly high for Latino youth. We found them especially in social anxiety and something we call generalized anxiety disorder and so we were able to identify that some of the factors that we think are at play have to do with the fears that they had during the pandemic.”
The study’s findings suggest that young people from Latino backgrounds had exacerbated worries during the pandemic as many of them had essential workers in their families who were more at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. While Polo noted higher rates of anxiety existed before the pandemic for Latino youth, girls in particular, this is one of the earliest studies to consider rates for nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students.
“That is a new group of students being represented in research, and this is one of the first studies to really document some of their needs in that respect,” Polo said. “And so I think it just speaks to how important it is to provide safe environments at school where they can be protected and where their needs can be attended.”
Polo said the study also included a collaboration between schools and mental health professionals that creates more resources for CPS students.
“We weren’t just sampling students to see how they were doing,” Polo said. “We wanted to identify those that had high levels of anxiety, high levels of depression and teach them coping skills. And so that’s what we were able to do. Through the great work of social workers, school counselors and school psychologists that partner with us, we trained them on this program called Act and Adapt, which is a cognitive behavioral intervention that teaches skills that are directly addressing problems related to internalizing problems.”