A lonely teen watching the sunset in Tervasaari. LEHTIKUVA

Health & wellbeing

A recent study by the University of Turku's Child Psychiatry Research Center and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland has found that the number of new psychiatric diagnoses among young people increased by almost a fifth after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The diagnoses increased especially among girls, teenagers, and in the Helsinki metropolitan area, where restrictions and COVID-19 infection rates were higher than in other parts of the country. Eating disorders, depression, and anxiety diagnoses increased the most during the study period.

The nationwide registry study examined the use of specialized healthcare services among all 0-17-year-olds living in Finland from January 2017 to September 2021. The researchers analyzed psychiatric and neurocognitive disorder diagnoses in specialized healthcare according to gender, age, and home location. The study compared the number of diagnoses received by children and adolescents to previous years' forecast models, with the number of diagnoses found to be about 18.5% higher than predicted.

According to Assistant Professor David Gyllenberg, who led the study, 3,821 more patients were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders than expected from June 2020 to September 2021. During this time, psychiatric diagnoses were made more frequently, especially among young women and teenagers. However, the number of diagnoses among children did not increase significantly from the expected number.

The study found that psychiatric diagnoses increased more than expected in areas with the highest COVID-19 incidence and the strictest restrictions, particularly in the Helsinki metropolitan area and other large cities. The researchers suggested that further studies are needed to determine the role that COVID-19 incidence and restrictions played in the increased number of diagnoses.

The study also analyzed the prevalence of different diagnostic groups in psychiatric specialist care diagnoses. The results revealed that diagnoses related to eating disorders (33.4%), depression and anxiety disorders (21%), and neurocognitive disorders increased the most. However, there were no significant differences in diagnoses related to psychotic or bipolar disorders. Moreover, diagnoses related to self-harm and substance use disorders were found to be less than predicted.

The rapid increase in diagnoses during the first three months after the pandemic highlights the importance of monitoring young people's mental health during times of crisis. The findings of this study could assist in developing targeted interventions to mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people's mental health.