The consequences of a year of the COVID-19 pandemic for the mental health of young adult twins in England and Wales

Kaili Rimfeld, Ryan Arathimos, Agnieszka Gidziela, Oliver Pain, Andrew McMillan, Rachel Ogden, Louise Webster, Amy E Packer, Nicholas G Shakeshaft, Kerry L Schofield, Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Andrea G Allegrini, Argyris Stringaris, Sophie von Stumm, Cathryn M Lewis, Robert Plomin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all our lives, not only through the infection itself, but also through the measures taken to control the virus’s spread (e.g., lockdown). Here we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented lockdown affected the mental health of young adults in England and Wales. We compared the mental health symptoms of up to 4,000 twins in their mid-twenties in 2018 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (T1) to those in a four-wave longitudinal data collection during the pandemic in April, July, and October 2020, and in March 2021 (T2-T5). The average changes in mental health were small-to-medium and mainly occurred from 2018 (T1) to March 2020 (T2, one month following the start of lockdown; average Cohen d=0.14). Despite the expectation of catastrophic effects on the pandemic on mental health of our young adults, we did not observe trends in worsening mental health during the pandemic (T3-T5). Young people with pre-existing mental health problems were adversely affected at the beginning of the pandemic, but their increased problems largely subsided as the pandemic persisted. Twin analyses indicated that the aetiology of individual differences did not change during the lockdown. The average heritability of mental health symptoms was 33% across 5 waves of assessment, and the average genetic correlation between T1 and T2-T5 was .95, indicating that genetic effects before the pandemic (T1) are substantially correlated with genetic effects up to a year later (T2-T5). We conclude that on average the mental health of young adults in England and Wales has been remarkably resilient to the effects of the pandemic and associated lockdown.

Original languageEnglish
JournalmedRxiv : the preprint server for health sciences
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Oct 2021

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