Mental health presentations across healthcare setting during the first 9 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in England: Retrospective observational study

Gillian E. Smith, Sally E. Harcourt, Uy Hoang, Agnieszka Lemanska, Alex J. Elliott, Roger A. Morbey, Helen E. Hughes, Iain Lake, Obaghe Edeghere, Isabel Oliver, Julian Sherlock, Richard Amlôt, Simon de Lusignan

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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented impact on the day to day lives of people, with several features potentially adversely affecting mental health. There is growing evidence of the size of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, but much of this is from ongoing population surveys using validated mental health scores.
Objective: This study investigated the impact of the pandemic and control measures on mental health conditions presenting to a spectrum of national healthcare services monitored using real-time syndromic surveillance in England.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective observational descriptive study of mental health presentations (those calling the national medical helpline, NHS 111, consulting general practitioners in and out-of-hours, calling ambulance services and attending emergency departments) between 1 January 2019 to 30 September 2020. Estimates for the impact of lockdown measures were provided using an interrupted time series analysis.
Results: Mental health presentations showed a marked decrease during the early stages of the pandemic. Post-lockdown, attendances for mental health conditions reached higher than pre-pandemic levels across most systems; a rise of 10% compared to expected for NHS 111 and 21% for GP out-of-hours whilst the number of consultations to in-hours GPs was 13% lower compared to the same time last year. Increases were observed in calls to NHS 111 for sleep problems.
Conclusions: These analyses showed marked changes in the healthcare attendances and prescribing for common mental health issues, across a spectrum of healthcare provision, with some of these changes persisting. The reasons for such changes are likely to be complex and multifactorial. The impact of the pandemic on mental health may not be fully understood for some time, and therefore these syndromic indicators should continue to be monitored.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32347
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2022


  • anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • health care
  • health care service
  • health surveillance
  • mental health
  • pandemic
  • public health
  • sleep problems
  • syndromic surveillance

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