Self-harm and the COVID-19 pandemic: A study of factors contributing to self-harm during lockdown restrictions.
Hawton K., Lascelles K., Brand F., Casey D., Bale L., Ness J., Kelly S., Waters K.
INTRODUCTION: The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting public health measures may have major impacts on mental health, including on self-harm. We have investigated what factors related to the pandemic influenced hospital presentations following self-harm during lockdown in England. METHOD: Mental health clinicians assessing individuals aged 18 years and over presenting to hospitals in Oxford and Derby following self-harm during the period March 23rd to May 17, 2020 recorded whether the self-harm was related to the impact of COVID-19 and, if so, what specific factors were relevant. These factors were organized into a classification scheme. Information was also collected on patients' demographic characteristics, method of self-harm and suicide intent. RESULTS: Of 228 patients assessed, in 46.9% (N = 107) COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions were identified as influencing self-harm. This applied more to females than males (53.5%, N = 68/127 v 38.6%, N = 39/101, χ2 = 5.03, p = 0.025), but there were no differences in age, methods of self-harm or suicide intent between the two groups. The most frequent COVID-related factors were mental health issues, including new and worsening disorders, and cessation or reduction of services (including absence of face-to-face support), isolation and loneliness, reduced contact with key individuals, disruption to normal routine, and entrapment. Multiple, often inter-connected COVID-related factors were identified in many patients. CONCLUSIONS: COVID-related factors were identified as influences in nearly half of individuals presenting to hospitals following self-harm in the period following introduction of lockdown restrictions. Females were particularly affected. The fact that mental health problems, including issues with delivery of care, predominated has implications for organisation of services during such periods. The contribution of isolation, loneliness and sense of entrapment highlight the need for relatives, friends and neighbours to be encouraged to reach out to others, especially those living alone. The classification of COVID-related factors can be used as an aide-memoire for clinicians.