Effect of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health hospital admissions: comparative population-based study

BJPsych Open. 2021 Aug 3;7(5):e141. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2021.975.


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic caused mental health services to be downscaled to abide by the public health restrictions issued.

Aims: The aim of this study was to investigate whether the pandemic and resultant restrictions had an impact on Malta's admissions to hospital for mental health issues by assessing the number and nature of psychiatric admissions to our only national mental health hospital.

Method: Data collection was carried out retrospectively for the 13-week period between 7 March 2020 and 4 June 2020, compared with the equivalent in 2019. Demographic data was obtained and descriptive statistical analysis through the use of the χ²-test, z-test and logistic regression model were used to compare both data-sets, using a P-value of 0.05.

Results: An overall reduction in admissions to hospital was noted in 2020 when compared with 2019, recorded to be lowest in March 2020 with a steady acceleration of admissions up until May 2020 (χ2(3) = 22.573, P < 0.001). This coincided with a decelerated rate of positive COVID-19 cases locally. In 2020, there were significantly higher female admissions (χ2(1) = 10.197, P < 0.001), increased presentations of self-harm/suicidal ideation (P < 0.001) and higher involuntary admissions using the Mental Health Act (χ2(1) = 4.904, P = 0.027). The logistic regression model identified total length of stay in hospital, primary mental health diagnosis, gender and month of admission as variables significantly associated with an admission.

Conclusions: Our first population-wide study confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent public health restrictions had an impact on the population's hospital admissions for mental health issues.

Keywords: COVID-19; hospital admission; pandemic; population-study; suicidality.