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Young adults with previous self-injury or eating disorders have reported higher levels of depression and anxiety during the pandemic, new research shows, even as restrictions relaxed.

The study, led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, the Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Foundation, was published in the Eating Disorders Journal. He reviewed questionnaire information for 2,657 people from the world-renowned Children of the 90s health study (also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) before and during the COVID pandemic. -19.

Researchers analyzed the relationship between previous reports of symptoms of eating disorders and self-harm before the pandemic, and mental health issues (symptoms of depression and anxiety) and mental well-being during the pandemic. of COVID-19. The study also assessed whether lifestyle changes, such as increased sleep, relaxation techniques or visiting green spaces, could be linked to the mental health and well-being of young adults with or without symptoms of eating disorders or self-harm.

Researchers looked at data from the 2017 questionnaire, when participants were then 25 years old, as well as data collected during the 2020 pandemic.

At age 25, 32% of 2,657 young adults reported at least one symptom of an eating disorder, 9% reported self-harm, and 5.5% reported both one eating disorder symptom and one symptom of an eating disorder. self-harm in the past year.

During the pandemic, people who previously reported symptoms of eating disorders and / or self-harm had more symptoms of depression and anxiety, and worse mental well-being, compared to people without previous symptoms. This remained the case after adjusting for their pre-pandemic levels of depression, anxiety, and mental well-being.

Lifestyle changes appeared to have little effect on the increased risk of mental health problems in people with previous symptoms of eating disorders or self-harm.

Eating disorders and self-harm are common and troubling mental health problems among young adults. In the UK, around 1.25 million people are living with an eating disorder and nearly one in 15 adults report self-harm.

Our research has highlighted that people with previous symptoms of self-harm and eating disorders are key risk groups, and more longitudinal research is needed to understand their current mental health as well as risk factors and protection.

People who have experienced symptoms of eating disorders and self-harm in the past should be considered vulnerable to depression and anxiety throughout the pandemic and beyond. Funding for timely and responsive service delivery is key to reducing the impact of the pandemic on people with mental health problems. “

Dr Naomi Warne, Senior Author, Senior Research Associate, Center for Academic Mental Health, University of Bristol