Self-harm during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic in England: Comparative trend analysis of hospital presentations.
Hawton K., Casey D., Bale E., Brand F., Ness J., Waters K., Kelly S., Geulayov G.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures necessary to address it may have major effects on mental health, including on self-harm. We have used well-established monitoring systems in two hospitals in England to investigate trends in self-harm presentations to hospitals during the early period of the pandemic. METHOD: Data collected in Oxford and Derby on patients aged 18 years and over who received a psychosocial assessment after presenting to the emergency departments following self-harm were used to compare trends during the three-month period following lockdown in the UK (23rd March 2020) to the period preceding lockdown and the equivalent period in 2019. RESULTS: During the 12 weeks following introduction of lockdown restrictions there was a large reduction in the number of self-harm presentations to hospitals by individuals aged 18 years and over compared to the pre-lockdown weeks in 2020 (mean weekly reduction of 13.5 (95% CI 5.6 - 21.4) and the equivalent period in 2019 (mean weekly reduction of 18.0 (95% CI 13.9 - 22.1). The reduction was greater in females than males, occurred in all age groups, with a larger reduction in presentations following self-poisoning than self-injury. CONCLUSIONS: A substantial decline in hospital presentations for self-harm occurred during the three months following the introduction of lockdown restrictions. Reasons could include a reduction in self-harm at the community level and individuals avoiding presenting to hospital following self-harm. Longer-term monitoring of self-harm behaviour during the pandemic is essential, together with efforts to encourage help-seeking and the modification of care provision.