CDC: More teenage girls in ER for mental health conditions during pandemic

The roughly two years since the beginning of the pandemic have seen a significant increase in teenage girls visiting emergency rooms due to mental health conditions, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week.

The study found that the proportion of emergency room visits made by girls aged 12 to 17 doubled for eating disorders and approximately tripled for tic disorders during the pandemic when compared with 2019.

It also reported that adolescent girls' emergency room visits rose for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2021 and for anxiety, trauma and stressor-related disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in January 2022 in comparison with 2019.

The study claimed that risk factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as "lack of structure in daily routine, emotional distress and changes in food availability," could have been a trigger for eating disorders in particular.

The increase in visits for tic disorders was "atypical," according to the study, as such disorders usually have an onset at a younger age and are more commonly present in boys than in girls.

However, the study said that an increase in tic-like behavior could potentially be attributed to the stress of the pandemic or exposure to severe instances of such behavior on social media platforms.

"The highly complex nature of individual experiences makes it difficult to identify a single reason for changes in [mental health conditions] during the pandemic," the study said. "Although prolonged time at home could have increased familial support and identification of mental health care needs for some youths, it might have amplified adversities and stressors among others."

For instance, the study noted that the pandemic may have exacerbated "exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as loss of parents and caregivers, increases in parental mental health challenges and substance use, and financial vulnerabilities" in addition to disrupting adolescents' social and physical activities, leading to uncertainty, loneliness and increased social media usage.

The study found that, in general, the number of emergency room visits made by boys aged 12 to 17 for mental health conditions decreased during the same time period when compared with 2019, though it noted that the visitation patterns varied for specific conditions and during different portions of the past two years.

"These sex differences might represent differences in need, recognition, and health care-seeking behavior," the study said.