BackgroundLittle is known regarding the correlates of mental health, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in lower income countries. Using data from almost the entire population of graduating high school students in El Salvador, we examine the associations between depression and anxiety symptoms and potentially protective factors including peer and family relationships, health behaviours and artistic leisure activities.MethodsData comes from the AVANZO survey conducted in El Salvador with 42,314 graduating high school students aged 15–21 in November 2020. Participants completed the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale and Socioemotional Skills Scale. Using a structural equation modelling framework, we tested the associations between these variables and whether these associations varied by sex.ResultsParticipants who experienced more positive family relationships reported fewer symptoms of depression (β = −0.304, p < .001) and anxiety (β = −0.103, p < .001). Similar results were found between health behaviours and symptoms of depression (β = −0.398, p < .001), and anxiety (β = −0.312, p < .001). Peer relationships were non-significantly associated with depression and anxiety symptoms. Associations were similar for boys and girls.LimitationsStudents undertook the mental health survey as part of an academic test, which might have increased mental stress. The Socioemotional Skills Scales is newly developed, and results are cross-sectional.ConclusionsOur findings provide insight into the experiences of an understudied population during the pandemic and identify positive family relationships and health behaviours as important correlates of mental health during this time.

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Calderón Alfaro, F., Okely, J. & Li, Y. 2023, 'Symptoms of depression and anxiety in young people in El Salvador: Associations with peer and family relationships, artistic activities and health behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic', Journal of Affective Disorders, 339, pp. 838-846. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2023.07.024

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Last updated: 31 July 2023
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