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Adolescence, Adverse childhood experiences, COVID-19, Health disparities, Mental health, Pandemic



During the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, mental health among youth has been negatively affected. Youth with a history of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), as well as youth from minoritized racial-ethnic backgrounds, may be especially vulnerable to experiencing COVID-19–related distress. The aims of this study are to examine whether exposure to pre-pandemic ACEs predicts mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in youth and whether racial-ethnic background moderates these effects.


From May to August 2020, 7983 youths (mean age, 12.5 years; range, 10.6–14.6 years) in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study completed at least one of three online surveys measuring the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. Data were evaluated in relation to youths' pre-pandemic mental health and ACEs.


Pre-pandemic ACE history significantly predicted poorer mental health across all outcomes and greater COVID-19–related stress and impact of fears on well-being. Youths reported improved mental health during the pandemic (from May to August 2020). While reporting similar levels of mental health, youths from minoritized racial-ethnic backgrounds had elevated COVID-19–related worry, stress, and impact on well-being. Race and ethnicity generally did not moderate ACE effects. Older youths, girls, and those with greater pre-pandemic internalizing symptoms also reported greater mental health symptoms.


Youths who experienced greater childhood adversity reported greater negative affect and COVID-19–related distress during the pandemic. Although they reported generally better mood, Asian American, Black, and multiracial youths reported greater COVID-19–related distress and experienced COVID-19–related discrimination compared with non-Hispanic White youths, highlighting potential health disparities.

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