Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of clinically extremely vulnerable children and children living with clinically extremely vulnerable people in Wales: A data linkage study
Objectives: To determine whether clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) children or children living with a CEV person in Wales were at greater risk of presenting with anxiety or depression in primary or secondary care during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with children in the general population, and to compare patterns of anxiety and depression during the pandemic (23rd March 2020-31st January 2021, referred to as 2020/21) and before the pandemic (March 23rd 2019-January 31st 2020, referred to as 2019/20), between CEV children and the general population. Design: Population-based cross-sectional cohort study using anonymised, linked, routinely collected health and administrative data held in the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank. CEV individuals were identified using the COVID-19 Shielded Patient List. Setting: Primary and secondary healthcare settings covering 80% of the population of Wales. Participants: Children aged 2-17 in Wales: CEV (3,769); living with a CEV person (20,033); or neither (415,009). Primary outcome measure: First record of anxiety or depression in primary or secondary healthcare in 2019/20 and 2020/21, identified using Read and ICD-10 codes. Results: A Cox regression model adjusted for demographics and history of anxiety or depression revealed that only CEV children were at greater risk of presenting with anxiety or depression during the pandemic compared with the general population (Hazard Ratio=2.27, 95% Confidence Interval=1.94-2.66, p<0.001). Compared with the general population, the risk amongst CEV children was higher in 2020/21 (Risk Ratio 3.04) compared with 2019/20 (Risk Ratio 1.90). In 2020/21, the cumulative incidence of anxiety or depression increased slightly amongst CEV children, but declined amongst the general population. Conclusions: Differences in the cumulative incidences of recorded anxiety or depression in healthcare between CEV children and the general population were largely driven by a reduction in presentations to healthcare services by children in the general population during the pandemic.
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