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The mental distress of our youth in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic


Berger, Gregor; Häberling, Isabelle; Lustenberger, Alana; Probst, Fabian; Franscini, Maurizia; Pauli, Dagmar; Walitza, Susanne (2022). The mental distress of our youth in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Swiss Medical Weekly, 152:w30142.

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Epidemiological evidence from population-based surveys suggest that the psychological well-being of adolescents has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic itself, as well as by the safety measures implemented. The rationale of the study was to investigate the influence of the pandemic on psychiatric emergency service use, psychiatric admissions rates, emotional well-being, suicidality and self-harm behaviour in help-seeking children and adolescents.

METHODS

Retrospective cohort study of electronic patient records before and during the COVID-19 pandemic from the emergency out-patient facility of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy of the Psychiatric University Hospital Zürich. The frequency of all emergency service contacts from 1 January 2019 to 31 June 2021 were described and the frequency of records compared in half-year intervals. Emotional well-being, behavioural problems, suicidality and self-harm were estimated based on the mental state examination notes of electronic patient records from the 1 March to the 30 April for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021.

RESULTS

After an initial decline in emergency contacts at the beginning of the first lockdown, the use of the centralised emergency service increased during the subsequent months and has since stabilised at a significantly higher level than before the pandemic. Comparison of emergency contacts in the first half of 2019 with the first half of 2021 shows that the number of emergency phone contacts nearly doubled, emergency outpatient assessments increased by 40%, emergency bridging interventions increased by 230%, and inpatient admissions of minors to adult psychiatric inpatient units more than doubled because of lack of service capacity in child and adolescent psychiatry. The proportion of adolescents who reported suicidal ideation increased significantly by 15%, from 69% to 84%, and the proportion of adolescents who reported self-harm behaviour increased by 17%, from 31% to 48%.

CONCLUSION

We found a significant increase in psychiatric service use, as well as in reported serious mental health symptoms such as suicidality and self-harm behaviour in help-seeking children and adolescents in the course of the pandemic. The child and adolescent psychiatric healthcare system is overburdened and down-referral of adolescents in need of ongoing therapy is becoming increasingly difficult. We recommend prioritising preventive and therapeutic measures to support the mental health of our children and adolescents alongside the somatic management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Epidemiological evidence from population-based surveys suggest that the psychological well-being of adolescents has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic itself, as well as by the safety measures implemented. The rationale of the study was to investigate the influence of the pandemic on psychiatric emergency service use, psychiatric admissions rates, emotional well-being, suicidality and self-harm behaviour in help-seeking children and adolescents.

METHODS

Retrospective cohort study of electronic patient records before and during the COVID-19 pandemic from the emergency out-patient facility of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy of the Psychiatric University Hospital Zürich. The frequency of all emergency service contacts from 1 January 2019 to 31 June 2021 were described and the frequency of records compared in half-year intervals. Emotional well-being, behavioural problems, suicidality and self-harm were estimated based on the mental state examination notes of electronic patient records from the 1 March to the 30 April for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021.

RESULTS

After an initial decline in emergency contacts at the beginning of the first lockdown, the use of the centralised emergency service increased during the subsequent months and has since stabilised at a significantly higher level than before the pandemic. Comparison of emergency contacts in the first half of 2019 with the first half of 2021 shows that the number of emergency phone contacts nearly doubled, emergency outpatient assessments increased by 40%, emergency bridging interventions increased by 230%, and inpatient admissions of minors to adult psychiatric inpatient units more than doubled because of lack of service capacity in child and adolescent psychiatry. The proportion of adolescents who reported suicidal ideation increased significantly by 15%, from 69% to 84%, and the proportion of adolescents who reported self-harm behaviour increased by 17%, from 31% to 48%.

CONCLUSION

We found a significant increase in psychiatric service use, as well as in reported serious mental health symptoms such as suicidality and self-harm behaviour in help-seeking children and adolescents in the course of the pandemic. The child and adolescent psychiatric healthcare system is overburdened and down-referral of adolescents in need of ongoing therapy is becoming increasingly difficult. We recommend prioritising preventive and therapeutic measures to support the mental health of our children and adolescents alongside the somatic management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
04 Faculty of Medicine > Neuroscience Center Zurich
04 Faculty of Medicine > Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology (ZIHP)
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > General Medicine
Uncontrolled Keywords:COVID-19, distress, youth, psychiatric emergency
Language:English
Date:14 February 2022
Deposited On:09 Mar 2022 13:12
Last Modified:26 Feb 2024 02:51
Publisher:EMH Swiss Medical Publishers
ISSN:0036-7672
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2022.w30142
PubMed ID:35230030
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)