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Adolescent mental health issues soared during COVID-19

Numbers remained high after restrictions were eased.

According to a new study from the University of New South Wales Sydney (UNSW Sydney), there was a surge in hospital visits for mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers analysed patient records from March 2020 to December 2021, and then again during the easing of restrictions in  January 2022 to June 2022.

Data taken from six paediatric hospitals across New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland were studied, with over 130,000 emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admissions for children and adolescents included in the study.

It found an 82 per cent increase in inpatient admissions for deliberate self-harm (DSH) behaviours, and a 76 per cent increase in ED visits related t0 eating disorders.

Dr Nan Hu, co-author of UNSW Medicine & Health, said that the two conditions resulted in hundreds of additional hospital admissions and ED visits, both conditions occurred mainly during the COVID-19 restriction.

“These two conditions resulted in an estimated 1100 additional ED attendances related to eating disorders, and an estimated 1500 or more additional hospital admissions related to DSH behaviours during the COVID-19 restriction period,” he said.

The findings suggest that many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic – including an uncertainty about the future, social isolation, financial stress and the disruption to education routines – are likely to affect young people’s mental health.

While mental health-related hospital visits decreased after the easing of restrictions in 2022, the number was still higher than it was before the pandemic.

Dr Jahid Khan, lead author from UNSW Medicine & Health, said that mental health issues are the “leading health concern” for Australian adolescents.

“The study highlights the increasing numbers of children and adolescents presenting to hospitals in mental health crisis during and since the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.


Photo: UNSW Library Lawn and library building, with clock in foreground bcy available HERE and used under a Creative Commons License. This photo has not been modified.

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