Risk and protective factors for new onset binge eating, low weight, and self-harm symptoms in over 25,000 individuals in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic
Objective: The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with poor mental health, including increases in eating disorder and self-harm symptoms. We investigated risk and protective factors for new onset of these symptoms during the pandemic. Method: Data were from the COVID-19 Psychiatry and Neurological Genetics study and the Repeated Assessment of Mental health in Pandemics Study (n = 45,058). Exposures were socio-demographic characteristics, lifetime psychiatric
... and COVID-related variables, including SARS-CoV-2 infection/illness with COVID-19. We identified four sub-samples of participants without pre-pandemic experience of our outcomes: binge eating (n = 18,172), low weight (n = 19,148), suicidal and/or self-harm ideation (n = 12,650), and self-harm (n = 20,266). Participants reported on our outcomes at frequent intervals (fortnightly to monthly). We fitted four logistic regression models to identify factors associated with new onset of our outcomes. Results: Within each subsample, new onset was reported by: 16.9% for binge eating, 8.9% for low weight, 26.6% for suicidal and/or self-harm ideation, and 3.3.% for self-harm. Shared risk factors included having a lifetime psychiatric disorder, not being in paid employment, and higher pandemic worry scores. Conversely, infection with SARS-CoV-2/illness with COVID-19 was linked to lower odds of all outcomes. Other factors were associated with one outcome, such as pandemic-related loneliness with suicidal and/or self-harm ideation. Discussion: Overall, we detected shared risk factors that may drive the comorbidity between eating disorders and self-harm. Subgroups of individuals with these risk factors may require more frequent monitoring during future pandemics.