Importance: The direct and indirect implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have been associated with the mental health of children and adolescents, but it is uncertain whether these implications have been associated with changes in prescribing and diagnosis patterns. Objective: To examine psychotropic medication use and rates of psychiatric disorders in Danish children, adolescents, and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design, Setting, and Participants: This population-based, descriptive register-based cohort study included all Danish individuals aged 5 to 24 years from January 1, 2017, until June 30, 2022. Main Outcomes and Measures: Rates of filled prescriptions of psychotropic medications, including antipsychotics, anxiolytics, hypnotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and psychostimulants, and all inpatient and outpatient contacts with mental and behavioral disorders. Rates of new (incident) and total (prevalent) psychotropic medication use and psychiatric diagnoses were estimated. Rate ratios (RRs) were assessed between observed and expected numbers of incident psychotropic medication use or psychiatric diagnoses from March 2020 to June 30, 2022, comparing observed numbers with expected numbers predicted from the modeled prepandemic trend. Results: The study identified 108840 (58856 female individuals [54%]; median [IQR] age, 18 [14-22] years) incident psychotropic medication users. From March 2020 (first national lockdown) to June 2022, the rate of incident users of any psychotropic medication showed a relative increase of 18% (RR, 1.18; CI, 1.17-1.20) compared with expected numbers, which was primarily associated with an increase among those aged 12 to 17 years of 37% (RR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.34-1.41). Similarly, there was an overall relative increase of incident psychiatric disorders of 5% (incidence rate, 1.05; CI, 1.04-1.07) (incident cases, 114048 [58708 female individuals (51%)]), which was associated with an increase in hyperkinetic disorders (RR, 1.13; CI, 1.09-1.18) and anxiety disorders (RR, 1.04; CI, 1.02-1.06). Prevalence patterns showed similar trends of an overall increase in psychotropic medication use and psychiatric disorders. One of 3 new users of an individual drug group had filled a prescription for a drug from another psychotropic medication group within the prior 6 months. Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this cohort study suggest that Danish youths experienced an increase in rates of psychotropic treatment and psychiatric disorder diagnoses during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was most pronounced among those aged 12 to 17 years. The increase was observed for children and adolescents with and without a psychiatric history within the last 5 years.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)176-180
Publication statusPublished - 1. Feb 2023


  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Denmark/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders/drug therapy
  • Pandemics
  • Psychotropic Drugs/therapeutic use
  • Young Adult


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