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Mental Health Presentations Across Health Care Settings During the First 9 Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic in England: Retrospective Observational Study

Publication date: 

3 Aug 2022


JMIR Public Health Surveill 2022;8(8):e32347


Smith GE, Harcourt SE, Hoang U, Lemanska A, Elliot AJ, Morbey RA, Hughes HE, Lake I, Edeghere O, Oliver I, Sherlock J, Amlôt R & de Lusignan S

Publication type: 



Abstract Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented impact on the day-to-day lives of people, with several features potentially adversely affecting mental health. There is growing evidence of the size of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, but much of this is from ongoing population surveys using validated mental health scores. Objective: This study investigated the impact of the pandemic and control measures on mental health conditions presenting to a spectrum of national health care services monitored using real-time syndromic surveillance in England. Methods: We conducted a retrospective observational descriptive study of mental health presentations (those calling the national medical helpline, National Health Service [NHS] 111; consulting general practitioners [GPs] in and out-of-hours; calling ambulance services; and attending emergency departments) from January 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020. Estimates for the impact of lockdown measures were provided using an interrupted time series analysis. Results: Mental health presentations showed a marked decrease during the early stages of the pandemic. Postlockdown, attendances for mental health conditions reached higher than prepandemic levels across most systems—a rise of 10% compared to that expected for NHS 111 and 21% for GP out-of-hours service—while the number of consultations to GP in-hours service was 13% lower compared to the same time previous year. Increases were observed in calls to NHS 111 for sleep problems. Conclusions: These analyses showed marked changes in the health care attendances and prescribing for common mental health conditions across a spectrum of health care provision, with some of these changes persisting. The reasons for such changes are likely to be complex and multifactorial. The impact of the pandemic on mental health may not be fully understood for some time, and therefore, these syndromic indicators should continue to be monitored.