A Worrying Trend: ER Visits, Mental Health and Children

by Wellness Editor – MH

Even the healthiest kids eventually will need a trip to the emergency room. While many such visits can be blamed on physical problems, mental health issues are sending a growing number of youngsters to the ER.

Mending the Mind

A study released in 2018 examined this very topic, reviewing the ER admission rates for American children in recent years. What the study authors found was very troubling; in just a short timeframe (2012 to 2016) the number of American children seeking emergency medical care increased by 50 percent. Moreover, the primary drivers of this trend are mental health problems. 

Study author Dr. Anna Abrams noted that “prior to our study, we knew that an increasing number of children with mental health concerns were coming to the nation’s pediatric emergency departments.” In addition, the researchers found significant differences in ER admissions based on race and ethnicity. 

Unfortunately, the study did not offer an explanation as to why mental health woes are sending so many children to the ER. “Our study really was an effort to characterize the frequency of these emergency department visits,” stated Abrams. “It was not designed to investigate the potential reasons that triggered these visits. We do plan to investigate this question in future work.”

Number Crunching 

Some major findings of the study are listed below:

  • Over the study’s timespan, the researchers concluded that 293,000 children had been diagnosed with mental illnesses while undergoing ER treatment. 
  • In 2012, the rate of pediatric ER visits for mental illness was 50 visits for every 100,000 children. Just four years later, this figure spiked to 79 visits per 100,000 children.
  • When ER visit admission rates were broken down by race, the gaps between the study’s various demographic groups became evident; in 2016, the rate for white children stood at 52 out of every 100,000 children. For black and hispanic children, the rates stood at 78 and 79, respectively. 

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