University of Southampton: Teenage girls visiting A&E with mental health concerns increased during the pandemic

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The number of teenage girls attending emergency departments with mental health issues rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research by the University of Southampton.

The findings, published in BMJ Journals’ Archives of Disease in Childhood, show that more females aged from 11 to 17 went to hospital with mental health issues than would be expected. In the same period, teenage boys attending with mental health issues significantly reduced.

Professor Graham Roberts, Professor in Paediatric Allergy and Respiratory Medicine and a theme co-lead at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, said: “This increase in mental health in young females is concerning.”



COVID-19 impact
Teenage girl seeking support from counsellor
More females aged 11-17 attended hospital with mental health issues
The study assessed the pandemic’s impact on medical, surgical, trauma and mental health conditions in children and young adults.

Professor Roberts, who led the study, said: “The impact of COVID-19 on older members of society is well-documented. But the impact of the pandemic on young people is less well-known.

“There were concerns about the negative impact on young people, so we looked at the number of young people attending hospital emergency departments during the first year of the pandemic.

“We compared it to the number we would have expected to see if the pandemic hadn’t happened.”

Data from the University Hospital Southampton
The study took place at the University Hospital Southampton (UHS) emergency department and regional major trauma centre.

Researchers analysed data from 166,459 presentations over five years from April 2016, focusing only on patients aged under 25.

Overall, there was a 38.1% reduction in young people using the emergency department during the pandemic with no variation by sex, age, deprivation, or ethnicity.

However the research showed an increase in the number of 11-17-year-old females who attended with mental health issues during the first year of the pandemic. It also showed a large reduction in the number of males who attended with mental health issues.

Professor Roberts said: “This may have been due to young females having fewer face-to-face interactions with friends, resulting in loneliness, and worsened mental health.

Teenager’s hand using gaming console controller
Study reveals fewer males attended hospital with mental health issues
Concerning trend
Researchers say the figures highlight a need to better understand how to support teenage mental health, particularly around their exposure to digital media.

“There are big differences in digital use between adolescent males and females”, Professor Roberts added.

“Boys tend to spend more time gaming, while girls spend more time on smartphones, social media and texting.

“Greater digital media use can cause lower wellbeing, and loneliness is often associated with females and older adolescents.

“We need to consider how we support these adolescents, especially with the increased exposure to digital media during the pandemic.”

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