ARTICLE | doi:10.20944/preprints202302.0017.v1
Subject: Social Sciences, Psychology Keywords: Digital Mental Health; deprivation; service activity; Mental health concerns; ethnicity; time-series analysis; Covid-19; Text-based online therapy
Online: 2 February 2023 (01:30:05 CET)
The adoption of digital health technologies accelerated during Covid-19, with concerns over the equity of access due to digital exclusion. Using data from a text-based online mental health service for children and young people we explore the impact of the pandemic on service access and presenting concerns and whether differences were observed by sociodemographic characteristics in terms of access (gender, ethnicity and deprivation). We used interrupted time-series models to assess whether there was a change in the level and rate of service use during the Covid-19 pandemic (April 2020-April 2021) compared to pre-pandemic trends (June 2019-March 2020). Routinely collected data from 61221 service users were extracted for observation, those represented half of the service population as only those with consent to share their data were used. The majority of users identified as female (74%) and White (80%), with an age range between 13 and 20 years of age,. There was evidence of a sudden increase (13%) in service access at the start of the pandemic (RR 1.13 95% CI 1.02, 1.25), followed by a reduced rate (from 25% to 21%) of engagement during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic trends (RR 0.97 95% CI 0.95,0.98). There was a sudden increase in almost all presenting issues apart from physical complaints. There was evidence of a step increase in the number of contacts for Black/African/Caribbean/Black British (38% increase; 95% CI: 1%-90%) and White ethnic groups (14% increase; 95% CI: 2%-27%) ), the sudden increase in service use at the start of the pandemic for the most (58% increase; 95% CI: 1%-247%) and least (47% increase; 95% CI: 6%-204%) deprived areas. During the pandemic, contact rates decreased, and referral sources change at the start. Findings on access and service activity align with other studies observing reduced service utilisation. The lack of differences in deprivation levels and ethnicity at lockdown suggests exploring equity of access to the anonymous service. The study provides unique insights into changes in digital mental health use during Covid-19 in the UK.