In a concerning revelation, a recent study shows that girls, in particular, faced heightened risks, with the odds of self-harm presentations by female children and adolescents doubling in the post-pandemic period compared to the pre-pandemic era. The study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) by Elsevier has shed light on the significant surge in pediatric emergency department visits linked to self-harm and other psychiatric issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MAJOR DEATH CAUSE
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its disruptions in schooling, social isolation, and increased family stressors, has placed substantial burdens on youth and their families. Although the acute phase of the pandemic may have passed, its enduring impact on mental health remains profound, especially among children and adolescents who are susceptible to amplified adverse childhood experiences. Self-harm, irrespective of suicidal intent, emerged as a leading concern, given its status as a major cause of death among young people globally.
Researchers and psychiatrists from 62 emergency departments across 25 developed and developing countries have contributed critical insights by examining the clinical records of a retrospective cohort of children and adolescents from March-April in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
The study uncovered that incidence rates of hospital visits for psychiatric reasons were 50% higher in March-April 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Shockingly, the rate of visits related to self-harm surged by 1.7 times during this time frame, surpassing the initial decline in visit rates observed at the start of the pandemic.
Senior author and Queen Mary University of London professor, Dennis Ougrin, MD, warns, “COVID-19 is likely to continue to impact young people’s mental health in the future. Recognizing the impact of both the pandemic and the pandemic response on mental health should be a key priority in planning for managing pandemics in the future.”
Notably, girls were disproportionately affected, with self-harm related visits by girls doubling between March-April 2019 and March-April 2021, and being 62% higher compared to the early pandemic period. Interestingly, the study did not identify similar increases in clinical diagnoses or self-harm methods typically associated with adolescent girls, such as self-poisoning or eating disorders. This suggests potential changes in the clinical profiles of this demographic.
First author and clinical researcher at East London NHS Foundation Trust and the Youth Resilience Unit of Queen Mary University of London, Ben Hoi-Ching Wong, emphasizes the importance of continued support for young people: “Girls may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and we are now observing some of the mental health consequences. This is consistent across a socioeconomically diverse range of countries on five continents. It is critical that schools, community services, and parents continue to encourage and support help-seeking, so that young people who are at risk of self-harm will access the support they need.”