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Stark decline in mental health services for young people reported

A significant decrease in mental health services aimed at younger people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mental health service use for children and young people were reduced over a fourth in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, new research reveals.

This is based on extensive systematic review showed a 28 percent reduction in mental health service use in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic among children and young people. Moe specifically, the reductions were mainly recorded for Emergency Department visits due to mental health issues. Here the services reduced on average by 40 percent.

For example, a large survey of psychiatrists undertaken across Europe reported a significant decrease in mental health services aimed at younger people during the first wave of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The decline in service availability needs to be considered in the context of other studies that are showing increased psychiatric symptoms among children and young people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study was led by Dr. Wan Mohd Azam Wan Mohd Yunus and Dr. Laura Kauhanen, both of whom are based Research Centre for Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku, Finland.

The study compared administrative data for psychiatric service use, self-harm, and suicide during and before the COVID-19 pandemic. The review consisted of 18 studies with data drawn from 19 countries. The data sets were from research reports published from 1 January  2020 to 22 March  2021.

The importance of the findings is that they show what the immediate impact the pandemic was upon mental health services provided for children and young people. The risks arising from these unmet mental health needs or delays in accessibility to appropriate care is a significant public health concern.

These large reductions in service use from the beginning of the pandemic also raises questions on the role of treatment delays in how mental health issues have progressed during the pandemic.

To redress the issue is not straightforward and health policy makers need to consider what resources are needed to tackle the current situation.

The research appears in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, titled “Registered psychiatric service use, self-harm and suicides of children and young people aged 0–24 before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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