Pediatric admissions of substance abuse, suicide, and psychosis in a New York City hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic

May 3, 2021
Lois Levine

The Bronx experienced 1 of the highest mortality rates of COVID-19 during the beginning of the pandemic. Some early research suggests that quarantine and school closures had a major psychosocial impact on children during this time. A study presented at the virtual 2021 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting looks at how children and teenagers living in low socioeconomic settings were affected by the pandemic.

In the spring of 2020, the Bronx had 1 of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the country. Sarah Rogal, MD, MPH at the Jacobi Medical Center Rego Park, New York, discusses the results of her 2020 study, coauthored with Raidour Ahmed, MD, Jacobi Medical Center, Rego Park, New York, comparing how children and teenagers living in lower socioeconomic settings in the Bronx fared in mental health issues compared to the year prior. The study was done from May 1, 2020 to October 31, 2020, and compared children and adolescents admitted to the hospital for self-harm/substance abuse; suicide attempt by ingestion; suicide attempt by self-harm; and psychosis, from 2019 and 2020.

In accordance with the study criteria, mental health admissions increased from 1.28% in 2019 to 5.65%, with an overall increase in psychiatric patients admissions. Those admitted with a known history of mental illness increased by 90% (compared to 58% in 2019). Furthermore, in 2019, 17% of admissions were for self harm and substance abuse; that number lept to 48% in 2020.

The Jacobi pediatric ward was closed and primarily was changed to an adult ward during early the early surge of the pandemic. When the pediatric ward reopened in May of 2020, there was a substantial increase in mental health admissions compared to 2020 over a period of 4 months.

The investigators concluded there was, overall, a significant increase in mental health admissions to the pediatric floor and intensive care during the initial months of the pandemic, and suggested that further studies should be done to look at resources and community efforts to assess access to mental health help.