How COVID-19 Has Affected Self-Harm Rates in the U.S.

COVID-19 Self Harm

Self-harm is a sign of severe emotional distress. Although most people who engage in self-harm won’t take their own life, studies released show the relationship between nonsuicidal self-injury and attempted suicide

Self-harm is more prevalent among young adults—an estimated one in four young women and one in 10 young men have harmed themselves at one point in their lives. Self-harm rates have risen dramatically among young people since 2000.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, those who self-harmed struggled to access help. Only 38 percent of those who self-harmed sought medical or psychological support. Young people, especially young women, have experienced a more significant decline in their mental health than others during the global pandemic compared to others. Unfortunately, more young people may be struggling because of COVID-19. 

Claims related to overdoses among young adults jumped 119 percent in April 2020 versus April 2019, while reports for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorders rose 94 percent and 84 percent, respectively. 

Claims for intentional self-harm as a percentage of all medical claim reports in the 13 to 18 age group increased a staggering 99.8 percent during the same time frame, which is significant. Although they’ve dropped slightly, the numbers remain elevated. 

It’s no secret that young people have high rates of mental illness, and now with the pandemic, their parents are struggling with jobs, relationships, food, and security. It makes everything worse, and the spike shows how vulnerable young people are during this time. 

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 can be tracked, but the impact on the mental health of humans is not quantifiable. Infection-related fears, social isolation, and economic instability have triggered and intensified these mental health problems. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing that the prevalence of depression in June 2020 was four times higher than in the second quarter of 2019. Anxiety was reported as three times higher in that same span. 

Young people are especially vulnerable because of school closures, leading to isolation from friends and teachers. The debate to open schools continues in many parts of the United States, while millions of children rely on remote learning.

Comparing August 2019 to August 2020 in the northeastern part of the United States, there has been a 333.9 percent increase in self-harm claim reports as a percentage of all medical claims. It marks the highest rate of any region in the United States.

Extra support is required for young people to help prevent a further increase in self-harm rates. These are challenging times for everyone, but we must shift our attention to those who are struggling mentally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Loss of Coping Mechanism Leading to Self-Harm

Young people have described feeling less able to cope than before the pandemic began. Many of the ways the young maintained their emotional well-being in the past, such as hobbies, private contact with friends, or accessing mental health support, have been less available because of social distancing. The result is that young people’s mental health is suffering.

As the imposed restrictions continue, it’s been challenging for young people to develop new coping mechanisms. They have mentioned they don’t feel understood by their family, and they’re worried about burdening them in these tough times. 

Over the past year since lockdowns began, there has been a considerable increase of emotional support contacts about self-harm across various groups. Once restrictions were tightened going into the winter, more young people reached out about worries related to managing or resisting-self harm. Young people are feeling cut off from their routines and admit that this feeling is affecting their mental health. 

Lack of Peer Contact

Since governments imposed restrictions worldwide, many young people describe being affected by the loss of contact with friends, alongside tense relationships with family members who live with them. As they continued, young people have also shared their worries about their inability to form new relationships and the reliance on social media due to the absence of in-person contact. 

Not having friends or support around is a significant concern for young people as they feel cut off from their routine and how it’s affecting their mental health. With that said, it’s not just young people who are experiencing these emotions. All age groups have been affected by these lockdowns and report a worsening in mental well-being.

Mental Well-Being Is Worsening

As the restrictions persist, young people describe their mental health problems, and their issues are more severe compared to when the restrictions were initiated in spring. A lack of access to mental health support has also been a concern. Due to an overwhelming amount of cases, such support is harder to access until it’s reached a crisis point for fear of burdening services. This has led to many people struggling and trying to cope alone. 

As was mentioned above, many young people are admitting to depression and anxiety, which has only been exacerbated because of the pandemic. 

Uncertainty About the Future

One of the primary concerns among young people is the uncertainty they face in returning to school and leading a normal life. Concern and fear about what the future holds, especially the impact of ongoing lockdowns on their education and work, is also causing strife. Since the national lockdowns were reimposed, many young people shared their struggles about their school or university work while also dealing with reduced support from their teachers. The pressure to perform and do well despite these challenges has also affected some of their well-being. 

As the economic disruption becomes more apparent, some young people are questioning the meaning of their education—will it lead to a better standard of life or job?

The economic impact is the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately fallen into the laps of young people. Research found that nearly one-third of young people were furloughed or lost their jobs, which is nearly twice the rate of older workers. The ongoing lockdowns and tough restrictions have had the greatest impact on non-graduate young people who work in retail and hospitality. 

If you’re concerned about your well-being or for others, it’s important to reach out for help. Although these are challenging times, they will pass, but for now, please focus on getting the help that’s needed. You’re only one phone call away from assistance. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 911 immediately. 


NCBI (February 2013) The Relationship Between Nonsuicidal Self-Injury and Attempted Sucide. From.

Forbes (March 2021) Self-Harm Claims Among U.S. Teenagers Increased 99% During Pandemic, Study Finds. From.

CDC (August 2020) Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During COVID-19 Pandemic. From.

ResolutionFoundation (May 2020) Young Workers in the Coronavirus Crisis. From.

Fair Health (March 2021) The Impact of COVID-19 On Pediatric Mental Health. From.

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