University of California, Los Angeles: Study assesses mental health effects of pandemic-related school closures

Data from 44 hospitals in 26 states show that suicide or self-injury and depressive disorders were the primary mental health reasons children received emergency department or hospital inpatient care after statewide school closures were enacted during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services validated findings from earlier public health data, which suggested that a disproportionate increase in emergency department visits for suicide — especially among adolescents and females. But the new study went further to examine percentage changes in emergency room and hospital discharges by type of psychiatric disorder, said Dr. Bonnie Zima, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neurosciences and Human Behavior, the article’s lead author.

Researchers examined data from 2019 and 2020. They found that, after statewide orders for school closures in 26 states, at a time when parents largely avoided bringing their children to hospitals for fear of exposure to the coronavirus, emergency visits and hospitalizations for both acute general medical and mental health care abruptly decreased.

However, that trend did not hold for child and adolescent mental health disorders.

“Our study found that the declines in [emergency department] and hospital discharges for primary psychiatric diagnoses after statewide school closure orders were two to three times less than those for general medical conditions,” Zima said. “Suicide or self-injury and depressive disorders continued to account for more than 50% of all acute mental health care encounters before and after the statewide school closures.”