Evidence of changing clinical contact for mental health problems over the first 21 months of the COVID-19 pandemic: parallel analyses of electronic health records and survey data in England

Vicky Taxiarchi, Morwenna Senior, Darren Ashcroft, Matthew J. Carr, Holly Hope, Matthew Hotopf, Evangelos Kontopantelis, Sally McManus, Praveetha Patalay, Sarah Steeg, Roger Webb, Kathryn M Abel, Matthias Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Few studies have investigated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health beyond 2020. This study quantifies changes to healthcare utilisation and symptoms for common mental health problems over the pandemic’s first 21 months.
Methods: Parallel cohort studies using primary care database and survey data for adults (≥16 years) in England from January 2015, to December 2021: 16,551,842 from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) and 40,699 from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS). Interrupted time-series models estimated changes in monthly prevalence of presentations and prescribed medications for anxiety and depression (CPRD); and self-reported psychological distress (UKHLS). The pandemic period was divided into five phases: 1st Wave (April - May 2020); post-1st Wave (June- September 2020); 2nd Wave (October 2020-February 2021); post 2nd Wave (March – May 2021); 3rd Wave (June –December 2021).
Findings: Primary care presentations for depression or anxiety dropped during the first wave (4.6 fewer monthly appointments per 1000 patients, 4.5-4.8) and remained lower than expected throughout follow-up. Self-reported psychological distress exceeded expected levels during the first (Prevalence Ratio=1.378, 95% CI 1.289-1.459) and second waves (PR=1.189, 1.124-1.377), returning towards expected levels during the third wave (PR=1.038, 0.929-1.154). Increases in psychological distress and declines in presentations were greater for women. The decrease in primary care presentations for depression and anxiety exceeded that for physical health conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, urinary tract infections). Anxiety and depression prescriptions returned to pre-pandemic levels during the second wave due to increased repeat prescriptions.
Interpretation: Despite periods of distress during the pandemic, we did not find an enduring effect on common mental health problems. The fall in primary care presentations for anxiety or depression suggests changing healthcare utilisation for mental distress and a potential treatment gap.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health – Europe
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 Jul 2023

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