Serious self-harm among young people jumped during strict COVID-19 lockdowns, new research shows.
The study found that boys needing urgent support from emergency services doubled, and then tripled for children in care.
Meanwhile, girls continued to be over-represented in self-harm figures, researchers said.
It comes after another study suggested that people living in poverty are more likely to suffer with long COVID.
Psychiatrists have called for more funding and development of community mental health services due to the findings, which have been published in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ BJPsych Open.
Researchers at King’s College London analysed data from 2,073 emergency self-harm hospital visits for children and young people across 10 countries, including England, comparing March to April 2020 with the same period in 2019.
Ben Hoi-ching Wong, clinical researcher at East London NHS Foundation Trust and the Youth Resilience Unit at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The pandemic has brought many substantial changes to the lives of children and young people.
“This is the first time we were able to specifically look at the effects of lockdown measures in an international sample.
“Lockdowns have impacted self-harm and help-seeking in some young people more than the others, and these differences are also evident in other countries.
“This research highlights how we need to diversify our approaches to supporting at-risk youths based on their individual needs, and particularly be mindful of addressing their concerns or worries about seeking medical and psychological help.”
Researchers found that while school pressure and rows with friends became a less common trigger, COVID-19 restrictions may have led to greater urges to self-harm, related to increased overthinking and negative coping strategies at home.
They also said children from more deprived areas became less likely to visit emergency departments and were less likely to have access to community support networks.
Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The earlier we offer support, the less likely people are to develop long-term mental health problems.
“It’s important to consider the impact of measures put in place during the pandemic on self-harm so that we can plan mental health services for the future.
“That’s the only way to ensure all children and young people receive the mental health support they need, when they need it.”