PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) – A new Stanford University study not only confirms the COVID-19 lockdown caused increased emotional distress for teens, but it also physically changed their brains. The study found an increase in depression, anxiety and sadness among teenagers.

Stanford Psychology Professor Dr. Ian Gotlib is one of the authors of the study that conducted brain scans of 15-18 year olds. He says the most likely cause for the aging brain is pandemic stress.

“During adolescence, you’re supposed to be physically with your peers, in school in classes and socializing, and we took all of that away,” he said.

Gotlib says the increase in aging was found in three main areas of the brain. 

“We have larger volume is the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning. We have larger volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for emotion, and we have thinning of the cortex, which is executive functioning, decision making, judgement,” he said.

That raises significant questions in terms of long-term impacts, but at this point researchers don’t know whether this brain aging is temporary or permanent. They will reassess study participants when they turn 20. Until that happens, Gotlib says parents should focus on getting help for those teens experiencing emotional difficulties. 

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“We have empirically validated treatment for depression and for anxiety. So there’s no reason not to offer those things to kids in need,” he said.