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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods, and people already experiencing mental ill health may have been especially vulnerable.
Quantify mental health inequalities in disruptions to healthcare, economic activity and housing.
We examined data from 59 482 participants in 12 UK longitudinal studies with data collected before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within each study, we estimated the association between psychological distress assessed pre-pandemic and disruptions since the start of the pandemic to healthcare (medication access, procedures or appointments), economic activity (employment, income or working hours) and housing (change of address or household composition). Estimates were pooled across studies.
Across the analysed data-sets, 28% to 77% of participants experienced at least one disruption, with 2.3–33.2% experiencing disruptions in two or more domains. We found 1 s.d. higher pre-pandemic psychological distress was associated with (a) increased odds of any healthcare disruptions (odds ratio (OR) 1.30, 95% CI 1.20–1.40), with fully adjusted odds ratios ranging from 1.24 (95% CI 1.09–1.41) for disruption to procedures to 1.33 (95% CI 1.20–1.49) for disruptions to prescriptions or medication access; (b) loss of employment (odds ratio 1.13, 95% CI 1.06–1.21) and income (OR 1.12, 95% CI 1.06 –1.19), and reductions in working hours/furlough (odds ratio 1.05, 95% CI 1.00–1.09) and (c) increased likelihood of experiencing a disruption in at least two domains (OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.18–1.32) or in one domain (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.07–1.16), relative to no disruption. There were no associations with housing disruptions (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.97–1.03).
People experiencing psychological distress pre-pandemic were more likely to experience healthcare and economic disruptions, and clusters of disruptions across multiple domains during the pandemic. Failing to address these disruptions risks further widening mental health inequalities.
A service review of specialist child and adolescent intellectual disability provision in South Wales was conducted between March and May 2020. The purpose was to explore the impact of the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on children with intellectual disability and their families. The review aimed to explore if the disruption to the systems involved in their care would impact their wellbeing and behavioural presentations. We also measured if there had been an increase in the use of medication. Our focus was on the distress calls, which are requests for urgent clinical review to prevent a crisis.A service review of specialist child and adolescent intellectual disability provision in South Wales was conducted between March and May 2020. The purpose was to explore the impact of the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on children with intellectual disability and their families. The review aimed to explore if the disruption to the systems involved in their care would impact their wellbeing and behavioural presentations. We also measured if there had been an increase in the use of medication. Our focus was on the distress calls, which are requests for urgent clinical review to prevent a crisis.
Six clinical areas across three Welsh health boards under the same specialist team were surveyed. Case notes and email correspondence were reviewed to obtain the number and content of crisis calls made to specialist CAMHS across an eight week period during the first UK COVID-19 lockdown. Data were gathered on frequency, purpose, and outcome of calls. Comparison data were also collected for the period October 2019 to March 2020.
Pre-COVID-19: Two crisis calls were identified in two different areas during the pre-COVID period surveyed. Increases in medication and increases in respite care packages were made as a result.
During COVID-19 restrictions: 20 different initial distress calls made (children age 9 and 17 years old (M = 13.2); 75% were boys) across five of the six clinical areas. Of these 20 calls, 17 were active cases and 3 were new referrals. 95% of calls resulted in medication increases and there were few other interventions used due to COVID-19 constraints. Changes to the child's support system were discussed across all cases and return to school was highlighted as a key protective factor in improved well-being. Differences between clinical areas were also identified.
There was a clear increase in distress calls and requests to prescribe or increase psychotropic medication to calm the distress during the ‘lockdown’. Changes in behavioural presentation may have occurred partly due to the disruption to the complex systems that typically support a child and the shift away from community support. Children with intellectual disability and their families are unique and embedded in complex systems comprising schools, respite, and healthcare provision which work together to deliver optimal mental healthcare with psychosocial interventions with medication for higher-risk situations. Any shifts in these systems may lead to an imbalance and a higher likelihood of medication use.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are commonly reported co-occurring mental health consequences of psychological trauma exposure. The disorders have high genetic overlap. Trauma is a complex phenotype but research suggests that trauma sensitivity has a heritable basis. We investigated whether sensitivity to trauma in those with MDD reflects a similar genetic component in those with PTSD.
Genetic correlations between PTSD and MDD in individuals reporting trauma and MDD in individuals not reporting trauma were estimated, as well as with recurrent MDD and single-episode MDD, using genome-wide association study (GWAS) summary statistics. Genetic correlations were replicated using PTSD data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and the Million Veteran Program. Polygenic risk scores were generated in UK Biobank participants who met the criteria for lifetime MDD (N = 29 471). We investigated whether genetic loading for PTSD was associated with reporting trauma in these individuals.
Genetic loading for PTSD was significantly associated with reporting trauma in individuals with MDD [OR 1.04 (95% CI 1.01–1.07), Empirical-p = 0.02]. PTSD was significantly more genetically correlated with recurrent MDD than with MDD in individuals not reporting trauma (rg differences = ~0.2, p < 0.008). Participants who had experienced recurrent MDD reported significantly higher rates of trauma than participants who had experienced single-episode MDD (χ2 > 166, p < 0.001)
Our findings point towards the existence of genetic variants associated with trauma sensitivity that might be shared between PTSD and MDD, although replication with better powered GWAS is needed. Our findings corroborate previous research highlighting trauma exposure as a key risk factor for recurrent MDD.
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