New study launched into the impact of COVID-19 on self-harm presentation rates and clinical management of people who have harmed themselves

A new 12 month study has launched to look at how the COVID-19 public health emergency has impacted help-seeking for self-harm and primary care management of people who have harmed themselves. It is one of six projects that will focus on the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of three at-risk groups awarded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) COVID-19 rapid response call.

The study will be led by Dr Sarah Steeg from The University of Manchester along with Professor Roger Webb from the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (NIHR GM PSTRC), which is a partnership between The University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.

By utilising more than 11 million anonymised routinely collected medical records* from general practitioners, the study will examine changes in rates of presentation to emergency departments for self-harm before, during and after the pandemic and subsequent treatment received in primary care. It will look at how frequently patients who have harmed themselves consulted with their GP or practice nurse, or were prescribed medication for mental illness during the peak months of the Covid-19 emergency. It will analyse whether during the peak of the pandemic clinical management following self-harm varied by patient demographics and the level of social deprivation in the population served by a general practice.

Professor in Mental Health Epidemiology at The University of Manchester, Roger Webb is also a lead researcher at the NIHR GM PSTRC’s Mental Health research programme, and said: “We’re aware that Covid-19 may have had a profound impact on people’s mental health and their risk of dying by suicide. People who have harmed themselves have a particularly raised suicide risk. Therefore, it is important to understand how the pandemic has affected clinical management of patients after they have harmed themselves to enable healthcare professionals to provide optimal treatment for these individuals going forward.”

Dr Sarah Steeg, Presidential Fellow in mental health epidemiology at the University of Manchester, said: “GP services can be a vital source of support for people who have self-harmed. This study will help us understand how the pandemic has impacted help-seeking for self-harm, clinical management and future outcomes. The use of linked, anonymised healthcare data, from several million patient records, will provide nationally representative and timely evidence.”

Speaking about the announcement of the six new studies, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said: “Covid-19 has brought challenges for us all, with frontline workers facing unprecedented pressure and many others, including children and people with existing mental health issues, struggling with the anxiety and loneliness that come with social distancing measures. At a time when we face a long and uncertain winter ahead of us, it’s more important than ever that we continue to look out for one another. These studies will help us identify the people most at risk so that support can be targeted where it is most needed during this difficult time.”

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