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Primary Care-Recorded Mental Illness Decreased During COVID-19

FRIDAY, Jan. 15, 2021 -- In April 2020, there were reductions in primary care-recorded mental illness and self-harm in the United Kingdom, according to a study published online Jan. 11 in The Lancet Public Health.

Matthew J. Carr, Ph.D., from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and colleagues assessed temporal trends in common mental illness, episodes of self-harm, psychotropic medication prescribing, and referrals to mental health services during COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. Data were extracted from patient records primarily from January 2019 to September 2020. A total of 14,210,507 patients from 1,697 U.K. general practices were identified.

The researchers found that compared with expected rates, in April 2020, the incidence of primary care-recorded depression, anxiety disorders, and first antidepressant prescribing had reduced by 43.0, 47.8, and 36.4 percent, respectively, in English general practices. The largest reductions in first diagnoses of depression and anxiety disorder were seen for adults of working age (18 to 44 and 45 to 64 years) and for patients registered at practices in more deprived areas. In April 2020, the incidence of self-harm was 37.6 percent lower than expected, with the greatest reduction seen for women and those aged younger than 45 years. The rate of referral to mental health services in April 2020 was less than a quarter of expected for the time of year (75.3 percent reduction).

"This research is so important because it shows the scale of the drop in the number of people seeking help, and, crucially, the treatment gaps," Carr said in a statement.

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