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Evidence on the impact of the pandemic on healthcare presentations for self-harm has accumulated rapidly. However, existing reviews do not include studies published beyond 2020.
To systematically review evidence on presentations to health services following self-harm during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A comprehensive search of databases (WHO COVID-19 database; Medline; medRxiv; Scopus; PsyRxiv; SocArXiv; bioRxiv; COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, PubMed) was conducted. Studies published from 1 January 2020 to 7 September 2021 were included. Study quality was assessed with a critical appraisal tool.
Fifty-one studies were included: 57% (29/51) were rated as ‘low’ quality, 31% (16/51) as ‘moderate’ and 12% (6/51) as ‘high-moderate’. Most evidence (84%, 43/51) was from high-income countries. A total of 47% (24/51) of studies reported reductions in presentation frequency, including all six rated as high-moderate quality, which reported reductions of 17–56%. Settings treating higher lethality self-harm were overrepresented among studies reporting increased demand. Two of the three higher-quality studies including study observation months from 2021 reported reductions in self-harm presentations. Evidence from 2021 suggests increased numbers of presentations among adolescents, particularly girls.
Sustained reductions in numbers of self-harm presentations were seen into the first half of 2021, although this evidence is based on a relatively small number of higher-quality studies. Evidence from low- and middle-income countries is lacking. Increased numbers of presentations among adolescents, particularly girls, into 2021 is concerning. Findings may reflect changes in thresholds for help-seeking, use of alternative sources of support and variable effects of the pandemic across groups.
Previous research has suggested that statistical power is suboptimal in many biomedical disciplines, but it is unclear whether power is better in trials for particular interventions, disorders, or outcome types. We therefore performed a detailed examination of power in trials of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders.
We extracted data from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Mental Health). We focused on continuous efficacy outcomes and estimated power to detect predetermined effect sizes (standardized mean difference [SMD] = 0.20–0.80, primary SMD = 0.40) and meta-analytic effect sizes (ESMA). We performed meta-regression to estimate the influence of including underpowered studies in meta-analyses.
We included 256 reviews with 10 686 meta-analyses and 47 384 studies. Statistical power for continuous efficacy outcomes was very low across intervention and disorder types (overall median [IQR] power for SMD = 0.40: 0.32 [0.19–0.54]; for ESMA: 0.23 [0.09–0.58]), only reaching conventionally acceptable levels (80%) for SMD = 0.80. Median power to detect the ESMA was higher in treatment-as-usual (TAU)/waitlist-controlled (0.49–0.63) or placebo-controlled (0.12–0.38) trials than in trials comparing active treatments (0.07–0.13). Adequately-powered studies produced smaller effect sizes than underpowered studies (B = −0.06, p ⩽ 0.001).
Power to detect both predetermined and meta-analytic effect sizes in psychiatric trials was low across all interventions and disorders examined. Consistent with the presence of reporting bias, underpowered studies produced larger effect sizes than adequately-powered studies. These results emphasize the need to increase sample sizes and to reduce reporting bias against studies reporting null results to improve the reliability of the published literature.
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