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A number of community based surveys have identified an increase in psychological symptoms and distress but there has been no examination of symptoms at the more severe end of the mental health spectrum.
We aimed to analyse numbers and types of psychiatric presentations to inform planning for future demand on mental health services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We analysed electronic data between January and April 2020 for 2534 patients referred to acute psychiatric services, and tested for differences in patient demographics, symptom severity and use of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA), before and after lockdown. We used interrupted time-series analyses to compare trends in emergency department and psychiatric presentations until December 2020.
There were 22% fewer psychiatric presentations the first week and 48% fewer emergency department presentations in the first month after lockdown initiated. A higher proportion of patients were detained under the MHA (22.2 v. 16.1%) and Mental Capacity Act 2005 (2.2 v. 1.1%) (χ2(2) = 16.3, P < 0.0001), and they experienced a longer duration of symptoms before seeking help from mental health services (χ2(3) = 18.6, P < 0.0001). A higher proportion of patients presented with psychotic symptoms (23.3 v. 17.0%) or delirium (7.0 v. 3.6%), and fewer had self-harm behaviour (43.8 v. 52.0%, χ2(7) = 28.7, P < 0.0001). A higher proportion were admitted to psychiatric in-patient units (22.2 v. 18.3%) (χ2(6) = 42.8, P < 0.0001) after lockdown.
UK lockdown resulted in fewer psychiatric presentations, but those who presented were more likely to have severe symptoms, be detained under the MHA and be admitted to hospital. Psychiatric services should ensure provision of care for these patients as well as planning for those affected by future COVID-19 waves.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to measures that reduced social contact and support. We explored whether UK residents with more frequent or supportive social contact had fewer depressive symptoms during March−August 2020, and potential factors moderating the relationship.
A convenience sample of UK dwelling participants aged ⩾18 in the internet-based longitudinal COVID-19 Social Study completed up to 22 weekly questionnaires about face-to-face and phone/video social contact frequency, perceived social support, and depressive symptoms using the PHQ-9. Mixed linear models examined associations between social contact and support, and depressive symptoms. We examined for interaction by empathic concern, perspective taking and pre-COVID social contact frequency.
In 71 117 people with mean age 49 years (standard deviation 15), those with high perceived social support scored 1.836 (1.801–1.871) points lower on PHQ-9 than those with low support. Daily face-to-face or phone/video contact was associated with lower depressive symptoms (0.258 (95% confidence interval 0.225–0.290) and 0.117 (0.080–0.154), respectively) compared to no contact. The negative association between social relationships and depressive symptoms was stronger for those with high empathic concern, perspective taking and usual sociability.
We found during lockdown that those with higher quality or more face-to-face or phone/video contact had fewer depressive symptoms. Contact quality was more strongly associated than quantity. People who were usually more sociable or had higher empathy had more depressive symptoms during enforced reduced contact. The results have implications for COVID-19 and potential future pandemic management, and for understanding the relationship between social factors and mental health.
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