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Adult Mental Health Presentations to Emergency Departments in Victoria, Australia between January 2018 and October 2020: Changes Associated with COVID-19 Pandemic Public Health Restrictions.

Psychiatric Quarterly 2023 November 9
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health measures altered patterns of help-seeking for mental health, with increases in emergency department utilisation reported. We examined the association between COVID-19 restrictions and adult emergency department (ED) mental health presentations in Victoria, Australia, through secondary analysis of data from 39 public EDs across the state. Participants were all patients (18+ years) presenting between 1 January 2018 and 31 October 2020 with mental health or intentional self-harm. The main outcome was number of presentations for each mental health condition, by patient age, socioeconomic status (SES), location, and ED triage category. We used a Poisson regression model to compare predicted monthly ED presentations based on trends from 2018, 2019 and 2020 (up to 31 March), with observed presentations during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic (1 April to 31 October 2020). There was an average of 4,967 adult mental health presentations per month pre-COVID-19 (1 January-31 March 2020) and 5,054 per month during the COVID-19 period (1 April-31 October 2020). Compared to predicted incidence, eating disorder presentations increased 24.0% in the COVID-19 period, primarily among higher SES females aged 18-24 years. Developmental/behavioural disorder presentations decreased by 19.7% for all age groups. Pandemic restrictions were associated with overall increases in monthly adult ED presentations for mental health, with some disorders increasing and others decreasing. Accessibility of acute mental health services needs to be addressed to meet changing demand and ensure services are responsive to changes in presentations resulting from future public health challenges.

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