Impact of COVID-19-Related Social Isolation on Behavioral Outcomes in Young Adults Residing in Northern Italy

Alessandra Patrono, Azzurra Invernizzi, Donatella Placidi, Giuseppa Cagna, Stefano Calza, Manuela Oppini, Elza Rechtman, Demetrios M. Papazaharias, Abraham Reichenberg, Roberto G. Lucchini, Maurizio Memo, Elisa Ongaro, Matteo Rota, Robert O. Wright, Stefano Renzetti, Megan K. Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Social isolation affects our emotions, behavior and interactions. Worldwide, individuals experienced prolonged periods of isolation during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when authorities-imposed restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus. In this study, we investigated the effects of social isolation on emotional and behavioral outcomes in young adults from Lombardy, Italy, a global hotspot of COVID-19. We leveraged baseline (pre-social isolation) and follow-up (mid- or post-isolation) data collected from young adults enrolled in the ongoing, longitudinal Public Health Impact of Metals Exposure (PHIME) study. At baseline, 167 participants completed the ASEBA questionnaires (ASR/YSR) by web link or in person; 65 completed the ASR 12–18 weeks after the onset of restrictions. Using the sign test and multiple linear regression models, we examined differences in ASR scores between baseline and follow-up adjusting for sex, age, pre-pandemic IQ and time with social restrictions (weeks). Further, we examined interactions between sex and time in social isolation. Participants completed the ASR after spending an average of 14 weeks in social isolation (range 12–18 weeks). Thought problems increased between baseline and follow-up (median difference 1.0; 1st, 3rd quartile: −1.0, 4.0; p = 0.049). Among males, a longer time in social isolation (≥14 weeks) was associated with increased rule-breaking behaviors of 2.8 points. These results suggest the social isolation related to COVID-19 adversely impacted mental health. In particular, males seem to externalize their condition. These findings might help future interventions and treatment to minimize the consequences of social isolation experience in young adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16496
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • mental health
  • social isolation
  • young adults


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