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Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young adults' mental health and beyond: a qualitative investigation nested within an ongoing general population cohort study.

PURPOSE: Initial discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic often overlooked its impact on young adults. By employing a qualitative approach nested within an ongoing general population cohort study, we seek to fill a gap in the literature by providing insights into the longer-term impact on this demographic.

METHODS: Data collection involved the use of in-depth semi-structured interviews. Using a pre-determined sampling frame, we purposively recruited 30 participants based on age, gender, ethnicity, and deprivation from the Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network (NSPN). The NSPN cohort, established in 2012, consists of 2403 young people aged 14-24 at baseline, recruited from Greater London and Cambridgeshire. Interviews were conducted in Autumn 2022; data were analysed using the framework method.

RESULTS: Participants were on average 28 years old (SD = 3 years, range 24-34 years; 53.3% female). The sample comprised individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds, with 40% from non-White ethnic groups. Many young adults reported profound personal growth and a stronger sense of resilience, a perception observed across varying levels of anxiety or depression. Nevertheless, we observed substantial disruptions to their personal and professional lives such as returning to their parents' homes, often deferring other life plans, lacking mental health support, and encountering significant career challenges.

CONCLUSION: Our findings highlight the complexity of pandemic impacts, demonstrating the need for supportive policies and further research to understand the circumstances under which genuine personal growth occurs, whether it is enduring or transient, and which factors influence it.

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