There is growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic, and its associated social distancing measures, affect adolescents’ mental health. We wanted to examine whether and how the number and characteristics of adolescents’ psychiatric emergency presentations have changed throughout the pandemic.
We extracted data from the records of 977 psychiatric emergency consultations of adolescents aged 12- 19 who had been referred to the mobile psychiatric emergency services in Rotterdam, the Netherlands between January 1 st 2018 and January1 st 2022. Demographic, contextual, and clinical characteristics were recorded. Time-series-analyses were performed using quasi-Poisson Generalized Linear Model to examine the effect of the first and second COVID-19 lockdown on the number of psychiatric emergency consultations, and to explore differences between boys and girls and internalizing versus externalizing problems.
The number of psychiatric emergency consultations regarding adolescents increased over time: from about 13 per month in 2018 to about 29 per month in 2021. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase was tempered. In the second wave a pronounced increase of psychiatric emergencies among adolescents with internalizing problems but not with externalizing problems was found.
Despite the reported increase of mental health problems in adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, we did find a smaller increase in psychiatric emergency consultations in this group then would be expected considering the overall trend. Besides changes in help-seeking and access to care, a possible explanation may be that a calmer, more orderly existence, or more parental supervision led to less psychiatric emergency situations in this age group. In the second wave the number of emergency consultations increased especially among girls with internalizing problems. While there has been a particular fall in emergency referrals of adolescents with externalizing problems since the start of the pandemic it is still too early to know whether this is a structural phenomenon. It would be important to elucidate whether the changes in emergency referrals reflect a true change in prevalence of urgent internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescents during the pandemic or a problem related to access to care.