Emergency department visits and mental health admissions increased among children and young people during the restrictions in Australia, according to a new study. The researchers also point out that despite the removal of the restrictions, hospitalization rates for mental health problems are still higher than before the coronavirus crisis.
In a new Australian study, researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) analyzed data from six major children’s hospitals in the country. They looked at more than 130,000 emergency department visits and inpatient admissions where children and young people sought help for mental health problems during the COVID-19 restrictions between March 2020 and December 2021. The researchers also looked at the same type of data between January and June 2022, after restrictions were eased in Australia.
The researchers found that under Australia’s tight restrictions, emergency department visits for mental health reasons increased by 15% for children and young people. Admissions related to mental health problems also increased by 8.9% during that time.
Looking more closely at admissions related to self-harm, they increased by 82% during the restrictions and 76% for eating disorders.
The researchers conclude that many aspects of COVID-19 and the restrictions may have affected young people’s mental health. These include uncertainty about the future, social distancing, financial stress, and even the suspension of school and normal routines.
– Mental health issues are the leading health concern for children and adolescents in Australia, says Dr. Jahid Khan, author of the study.
According to Khan,“the study highlights the increasing numbers of children and adolescents presenting to hospitals in mental health crisis during and since the COVID-19 pandemic”.
After the restrictions were lifted, visits for children and adolescents seeking help for mental health problems decreased slightly, but the numbers still remained higher than they were before the coronavirus crisis and restrictions began.
– The number of mental health-related hospital presentations remained high after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were eased. This may be a result of continued pandemic-related stresses and delaying seeking mental health care, says Dr. Khan.
The researchers conclude that the country needs more capacity in mental health care for children and adolescents, which they say should be a priority as long-term mental illness contributes to social, academic and developmental problems.
Numerous other studies have been conducted on the impact of corona restrictions on the mental health of children and young people. For example, a study in 2021 showed that the prevalence of depression and anxiety in children has doubled globally since the start of the lockdown and isolation policy in early 2020.