Kids' mental health suffered in lockdowns

Coronavirus inspired street art in Melbourne (file image)
Pediatricians recorded a rise in teenagers admitted to hospital for self-harming during lockdowns. -AAP Image

Pandemic lockdowns and restrictions adversely affected children and young people, with a rise in self-harm cases admitted to hospitals. 

Research published last week from the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Paediatric Study Group found a marked increase in pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) admissions following deliberate self-harm.

The authors of the study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open say this coincided with the COVID-19 lockdowns and social restrictions over the past two years.

Of the 813 study patients aged 12 to 17 analysed between January 2015 and June 2021, 230 were admitted during the first 15 months of pandemic from April 2020 to June 2021.

"At the onset of the pandemic, monthly incidence of (deliberate self-harm) ICU admissions per million children and adolescents increased from 7.2 admissions in March 2020 to a peak of 11.4 admissions by August 2020," said the authors.

This was considered a "significant" disruption to regular pre-pandemic trends.

Monash Children's Hospital PICU director Felix Oberender said that while the study was observational and therefore it was not possible to assume causality, the numbers were concerning.

"This is an intensive care study ... We really only see the tip of the iceberg," the lead author explained to Medical Journal Australia.

While the study was observational, the numbers were loud and clear, according to University of Melbourne's Youth Mental Health Professor Patrick McGorry.

"What else would be causing that increase? These impacted much more heavily on young people than any other age group, with harmful disruption of the protective scaffolding supporting mental health and development," he said.

This "sensitive period of life" depends on a stable family environment, engagement with peer groups and progress at school.

"You simply cannot continue to force people to stay home indefinitely, and in the case of young people, stay away from schools and their social networks," he said.

Dr Oberender agreed children and young people's mental health needed to be considered in health policy planning as much as their physical well-being.

"In 2020, I think many of us comforted ourselves thinking at least the kids are okay," he said.

"What we're seeing now in 2022 is a broad acknowledgement, in fact, that they're not okay."

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