Eating disorder and self-harm diagnosis surged during the COVID-19 pandemic: an urgent need for intervention

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

In a recent study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, researchers examined the incidence rates of eating disorders and self-harm two years after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Study: Temporal trends in eating disorder and self-harm incidence rates among adolescents and young adults in the UK in the 2 years since onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: a population-based study. Image Credit: AhmetMisirligul/Shutterstock.comStudy: Temporal trends in eating disorder and self-harm incidence rates among adolescents and young adults in the UK in the 2 years since onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: a population-based study. Image Credit: AhmetMisirligul/Shutterstock.com

Background

Self-harm and eating disorders are commonly used as coping mechanisms that can signal the presence of deeper psychological distress.

Reports indicate that individuals in socially disadvantaged environments are most likely to experience the adverse effects of the pandemic on mental health. However, whether the pandemic has worsened pre-existing socioeconomic disparities affecting self-harm and eating disorder rates is unclear. 

About the study

The study collected data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), a UK database of anonymous primary care electronic health records.

The team focused on an observation period of 10 years before and two years after the pandemic, covering a period between 1 January 2010 and 31 March 2022. The study included individuals aged between 10 and 24 years with one year of continuous registration and data contribution.

The study counted person-time at risk for each participant based on the start of the study, their tenth birthday, one year of continuous registration to a general practice, or one year of data recorded in a general rule.

Follow-up for each person was concluded at the earliest of the following events: outcome of interest, 25th birthday, cessation of registration with the practice, last data collection from the practice by the CPRD, or death.

The study's main focus was determining the incidence rates of eating disorders and self-harm. The identification of self-harm and eating disorders was conducted using Read, SNOMED, or EMIS codes in CPRD Aurum and Read or SNOMED codes in CPRD GOLD.

The incidence rates were based on the initial record of the analyzed outcome for each eligible participant. People who had a history of eating disorders were considered vulnerable to self-harm. In contrast, those who had a history of self-harm were deemed at risk of developing eating disorders. All instances of self-harm were considered outcome counts.

Results

From January 2010 to March 2022, the team noted that 7,672,027 individuals aged between 10 and 24 years from 1,475 general practices were recruited. The monthly incidence rate of eating disorders and self-harm among girls increased since July 2020.

Between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2022, there was a 33.1% higher incidence of eating disorders among girls. The incidence of first self-harm events was also higher, with an increase of 18.6% compared to the expected rate.

The incidence rates of various outcomes for boys rose after April 2020. Still, they remained consistently lower than or similar to the estimated rates noted two years after the pandemic began. The incidence of eating disorders reported among boys was 22.8% lower than expected, while the incidence of first self-harm episodes was 11.5% lower.

The pandemic led to a rise in eating disorders among females, particularly girls between 13 and 16 years old. The observed incidence was higher than expected, with a smaller elevation among girls aged between 17 and 19.

The incidence of eating disorders among girls aged between 13 and 16 years was 42.4% more than estimated, while for girls aged between 17 and 19 years, it was 32.0% more than expected. Notably, the incidence of eating disorders among girls aged between 10 and 12 years and between 20 and 24 years was similar to the expected incidence.

During the first two years of the pandemic, there was a higher prevalence of self-harm among girls, particularly those aged between 13 and 16 years, with an estimated incidence of 38.4% higher than expected. No increase in self-harm incidence was observed among girls in other age cohorts.

Furthermore, self-harm incidence was lower than anticipated among boys aged between 17 and 19 and 20 and 24.

Before the pandemic, girls from the least deprived quintile had a higher monthly eating disorder prevalence rate than those from the most deprived quintile. This difference further increased during the pandemic.

During the period between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2022, there was a significant rise in eating disorder diagnoses, especially among girls from the least deprived quintile. The incidence observed in this group was 52.4% higher than estimated, while in the more deprived quintile, it was 22.2% higher.

Conclusion

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased primary care-reported eating disorder diagnoses and self-harm events among teenage girls.

Early detection and timely treatment access are crucial in preventing exacerbations of existing mental health conditions in young people. It is important to provide adequate access and treatment from general practitioners and mental health services to address the mental health needs of young people.

Journal reference:
Bhavana Kunkalikar

Written by

Bhavana Kunkalikar

Bhavana Kunkalikar is a medical writer based in Goa, India. Her academic background is in Pharmaceutical sciences and she holds a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy. Her educational background allowed her to foster an interest in anatomical and physiological sciences. Her college project work based on ‘The manifestations and causes of sickle cell anemia’ formed the stepping stone to a life-long fascination with human pathophysiology.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Kunkalikar, Bhavana. (2023, June 23). Eating disorder and self-harm diagnosis surged during the COVID-19 pandemic: an urgent need for intervention. News-Medical. Retrieved on May 27, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230623/Eating-disorder-and-self-harm-diagnosis-surged-during-the-COVID-19-pandemic-an-urgent-need-for-intervention.aspx.

  • MLA

    Kunkalikar, Bhavana. "Eating disorder and self-harm diagnosis surged during the COVID-19 pandemic: an urgent need for intervention". News-Medical. 27 May 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230623/Eating-disorder-and-self-harm-diagnosis-surged-during-the-COVID-19-pandemic-an-urgent-need-for-intervention.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Kunkalikar, Bhavana. "Eating disorder and self-harm diagnosis surged during the COVID-19 pandemic: an urgent need for intervention". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230623/Eating-disorder-and-self-harm-diagnosis-surged-during-the-COVID-19-pandemic-an-urgent-need-for-intervention.aspx. (accessed May 27, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Kunkalikar, Bhavana. 2023. Eating disorder and self-harm diagnosis surged during the COVID-19 pandemic: an urgent need for intervention. News-Medical, viewed 27 May 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230623/Eating-disorder-and-self-harm-diagnosis-surged-during-the-COVID-19-pandemic-an-urgent-need-for-intervention.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
Post

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Study reveals ferroptosis as a major driver of severe COVID-19 lung damage