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Temporal trends in primary care-recorded self-harm during and beyond the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: time series analysis of electronic healthcare records for 2.8 million patients in the Greater Manchester Care Record

By Sarah Steeg, Lana Bojanić, George Tilston, Richard Williams, David A Jenkins, Matthew J Carr, Niels Peek, Darren M. Ashcroft, Nav Kapur, Jennifer Voorhees, Roger T. Webb

Posted 30 Jun 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.23.21259400

Background: Surveillance of clinically treated self-harm episode frequency is an important component of suicide prevention in the dynamic context of COVID-19. Studies published to date have investigated the initial months following the onset of the pandemic, despite national and regional restrictions persisting to Summer 2021. Methods: We conducted a descriptive time series analysis utilising data from the Greater Manchester Care Record, which contains de-identified, primary care health records of 2.8 million patients. Counts of incident and all episodes of self-harm recorded between 1st January 2019 and 31st May 2021 were made for all patients, with stratification by sex, age group, ethnicity, and index of multiple deprivation (IMD) quintile and examination of overall differences by national and regional restriction phases. Findings: Between 1st January 2019 and 31st May 2021, 33,444 episodes of self-harm by 13,148 individuals were recorded. Frequency ratios of incident and all episodes of self-harm were 0.59 (95% CI 0.51 to 0.69) and 0.69 (CI 0.63 to 0.75) respectively in April 2020 compared to February 2020. Between August 2020 and May 2021 frequency ratios were 0.92 (CI 0.88 to 0.96) for incident episodes and 0.86 (CI 0.84 to 0.88) for all episodes compared to the same months in 2019. Reductions were largest among men and people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods. An increase in all-episode self-harm (frequency ratio 1.09, CI 1.03 to 1.16) was observed for adolescents aged 10-17 between August 2020 and May 2021. Interpretation: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sustained impact on help seeking for self-harm. Reductions in primary care recorded self-harm have implications for clinicians' ability to assess the needs and risks of individuals. Some patients may be experiencing prolonged untreated deterioration in their mental health while other groups are presenting in higher numbers. Our findings have important implications for primary care and mental health services in manging ongoing demand.

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