Research Reveals that the Number of Youth Visiting EDs for Psychiatric Problems is Rising > Hospital Association of Pennsylvania


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Research Reveals that the Number of Youth Visiting EDs for Psychiatric Problems is Rising

March 19, 2019

Research published in the journal, Pediatrics1, reports that the number of young people ages 6 to 24 who visited emergency departments (ED) for psychiatric problems rose by 28 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Additional findings:

  • The largest increases in psychiatric ED visits per 1000 US youth were observed among adolescents (54%) and African American (53%) and Hispanic patients (91%).
  • A large increase in suicide-related visits (by 2.5-fold) was observed among adolescents
  • Although psychiatric ED visits were long (more than 3 hours in length), few (16%) patients were seen by a mental health professional during their visit

Researchers said that when it comes to getting care, the ED often is the only option for youth in crisis, who may be having suicidal thoughts, aggression, or psychosis. Young people also go to the ED when they do not have access to a regular mental health care provider for chronic psychological problems.

The researchers make the argument that “psychiatric expertise and effective mental health treatment options, particularly those used to address the rising suicide epidemic among adolescents, are needed in the ED.”2

The research team examined nationally representative data on ED visits in the United States to estimate what proportion were related to mental health issues for young people.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that it may be helpful for children and teens to save emergency numbers in their cell phones so they can get immediate help for themselves or a friend. Those numbers include:

  • The phone number for a trusted friend or relative
  • The non-emergency number for the local police department
  • The Crisis Text Line: 741741
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Many HAP members have been working to provide access to services for at-risk youth. For example, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is working with partners to increase access to behavioral health services through telehealth.  

HAP advocates for funding to support greater access to behavioral health services and treatment beds, as well as greater integration between physical and behavioral health providers.

  1. Pediatrics, online March 18, 2019
  2. Ibid.
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