Danish children, adolescents and young adults are using more psychotropic drugs after the COVID-19 pandemic
Compared to before the pandemic, there has been an increase in psychotropic drug use and psychiatric disorders in Danish children, adolescents and young adults. This is shown by a large Danish study including all 5-24-year-old in Denmark with data until June 2022.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, young people experienced a worsening of their mental health.
A large Danish study using updated register data shows an 18% increase in new users of psychotropic medication such as hypnotics, psychostimulants and antidepressants among children, adolescents and young adults. In addition, there has been an increase in youths assigned with a clinical psychiatric disorder diagnosis of ADHD or, to a lesser extent, anxiety disorders.
- Our study indicates that more children and young people experienced severe mental problems that required treatment with psychotropic medication during and after the pandemic than before,” explains Mette Bliddal, first author of the paper and associate professor at University of Southern Denmark.
Our study indicates that more children and young people experienced severe mental problems that required treatment with psychotropic medication during and after the pandemic than before
- The increase in psychopathology occurred in both children and adolescents with and without a psychiatric history.
In the study, which was just released in JAMA Psychiatry, the authors modelled the pre-pandemic monthly rate of filled prescriptions for psychotropic medication and registered psychiatric disorder diagnoses. Using this model, they showed a surplus of observed use of medicines and rates of diagnoses compared to the expected numbers during the pandemic.
The researchers behind the study emphasise that the findings do not point to the explanations of what specifically caused the increase in psychopathology.
Professor Christoph U. Correll, from The Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, New York, USA, and Charité University Medicine, Berlin, Germany, who was not involved in the study, comments:
- These results from a national database, which require multinational confirmation, underscore the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable youth. The data are the more concerning, as other studies have suggested a relative underutilization of physical and mental health care due to fear of infection, suggesting that an even larger number individuals with new-onset or worsened mental health conditions may exist who are likely to hit mostly unprepared or already strained mental health services across the globe, he says and elaborates:
- These data need to be taken seriously by healthcare policy makers and decision makers, proactively allocating mental health resources for the months and years to come.
About the study
Researchers from the pharmacoepidemiological group at Clinical Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Environmental Medicine, Department of Public Health and the Research Unit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark conducted the study.
- From January 2017 through June 2022, there were 108.840 new users of psychotropic medication in individuals aged 5-24 years. Compared to the period prior to the first national lock down (March 2020), we found a relative increase in psychotropic medication use of 18%. Among the 12-17-year-olds, the relative increase was 37%. The increase was seen in all drug groups except anxiolytics and was highest for hypnotics (39%) and psychostimulants (19%).
- The similar relative increase in psychiatric diagnoses was 5%. Among the 5-11-year-olds, the relative increase was 19%. The overall increase was mainly associated with an increase in hyperkinetic disorders (13%) and anxiety disorders (4%).
- Due to the tax-free health care system and a unique personal identification number assigned to all individuals living in Denmark, the study used individual-level data from nationwide registers holding information on filled psychotropic prescription medication and inpatient and outpatient hospital psychiatric disorder diagnosis.
Meet the researcher
Mette Bliddal, associate professor, Research Unit OPEN, Department of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.
Meet the researcher
Rikke Wesselhøft, associate professor, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Odense, Mental Health Services in the Region of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark