Continued rise in psychiatric admissions for eating disorders among young people

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There was a continued rise in psychiatric admissions related to eating disorders among young people in 2021, according to the latest figures from the Health Research Board’s (HRB) National Psychiatric Inpatient Reporting System. The report showed that admissions related to eating disorders rose from 33 in 2018 to 116 in 2021.

Females accounted for 96% of admissions related to eating disorders.

The report also highlighted a gradual return to pre-COVID numbers for psychiatric in-patient admissions in 2021.

Across all diagnostic categories, 72% of admissions to child and adolescent units were female in 2021, similar to previous years. 

Commenting on the key findings of the report, HRB Chief Executive Mairead O’Driscoll said. “This year’s figures shed valuable light on trends across inpatient psychiatric care, not least the continued rise in admissions related to eating disorders in younger age groups. By analysing and making this data available, the HRB can provide a solid evidence basis for policy and practice – informing decision-making and ultimately helping deliver the right resources to those who need them.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Depression continued to be the most common diagnosis across all cases admitted, with schizophrenia, neuroses and mania the second, third and fourth most common diagnoses, respectively.
  • Adult admissions were more likely to be single, unemployed and diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
  • The most common diagnosis for admissions under 18 was a depressive disorder (similar to 2020), followed by eating disorders (up from 18% in 2020 to 23%), neuroses, and schizophrenia.

Antoinette Daly, Research Officer at the HRB and co-author of the report, said, “We are seeing a gradual return to pre-pandemic numbers being admitted for inpatient care, following a slight dip in admission figures over the period of COVID-related restrictions. The 20-24-year-old age group had the highest rate of all admissions at 597.5 per 100,000, an increase of nearly 10% since 2020. 

“Depression continues to be the most common diagnosis across all cases admitted. An adult admission is most likely to be single, unemployed and diagnosed with depression. Meanwhile admissions of young people would typically be female, aged 17, with a diagnosis of a depressive or eating disorder. Also of note is that almost one in four admissions for young females were aged 14 years or younger compared with 1 in 10 admissions for males of this age.”

Summary of all key findings in 2021

  • Overall there were 15,723 admissions to Irish psychiatric units and hospitals in 2021, an increase of 332 on the 2020 figure (15,391). 
  • There was an equal proportion of male and female admissions. 
  • Admissions who were new to treatment increased by 64 from 5,694 in 2020 to 5,758 in 2021, while readmissions increased by 268 from 9,697 in 2020 to 9,965 in 2021.  
  • The 20-24-year age group had 1,635 admissions and the highest rate of all admissions, at 597.5 per 100,000, a ten per cent increase on 2020. Meanwhile the 75 years and over age group had 1,025 admissions and the lowest rate of admission, at 388.2 per 100,000. 
  • Adult admissions were more likely to be single, unemployed and diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
  • Schizophrenia, neuroses and mania were the second, third and fourth most common diagnoses, respectively.
  • The rates of involuntary admissions were similar to previous years.
  • A total of 284 admissions reported having no fixed abode, a decrease from 312 in 2020. 
  • There were 15,550 discharges and 103 deaths in Irish psychiatric units and hospitals in 2021. 
  • The average length of stay for all discharges in 2021 was 55.6 days (median 14 days), up marginally on 2020 figures. 

Child and adolescent admissions

  • There were 509 admissions for under 18s in 2021, up from 486 in 2020.
  • Seven in ten admissions for under 18s were female.
  • There were 29 admissions for under 18s to adult units and hospitals in 2021, up from 27 in 2020.
  • There were 480 admissions to child and adolescent units, up from 459 in 2020.
  • Two in five of all admissions were aged 17 years on admission; almost a quarter were aged 16 years, 7% were aged 13 years or younger on admission.
  • The most common diagnosis for admissions under 18 was a depressive disorder (similar to 2020), followed by eating disorders (up from 18% in 2020 to 23%), neuroses, and schizophrenia.
  • Females accounted for 96% of all admissions for eating disorders.
  • Males accounted for 92% of admissions for drug disorders.