Mental Health Emergencies in Kids Were More Severe During the Pandemic


Newswise — A new study found that during the pandemic pediatric emergency departments (EDs) saw more children and adolescents who needed a psychiatric admission, as well as an increase in severe conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance use disorders. The higher demand for a psychiatric inpatient bed often exceeded availability, resulting in over 12-hour stays in the ED awaiting admission for nearly 20 percent of children with mental health emergencies in 2022, up from 7 percent before the pandemic. Findings were published in Academic Emergency Medicine.

“Our data shows that pediatric emergency departments saw more severe mental health presentations during the pandemic, even while the actual number of visits decreased in 2022,” said lead author Jennifer Hoffmann, MD, MS, emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The dramatic increase in prolonged ED stays attests to the strain on the system and difficulties finding appropriate psychiatric care for children, whether in the hospital or in the community.”

Dr. Hoffmann and colleagues retrospectively studied mental health ED visits by children aged 5 to less than 18 years at nine U.S. hospitals participating in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network Registry from 2017 to 2022. They described these visits by period – pre-pandemic (January 2017-February 2020), early pandemic (March 2020-December 2020), mid pandemic (2021) and late pandemic (2022).

In addition to the increased severity of mental health emergencies, they found that during the mid and late pandemic, mental health ED visits increased beyond expected rates among girls, but not among boys.

“We observed a unique vulnerability for girls during the pandemic, which indicates that girls’ mental health requires more attention,” said Dr. Hoffmann, who also is the Children’s Research Fund Junior Board Research Scholar at Lurie Children’s.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, which is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is a nonprofit organization committed to providing access to exceptional care for every child. It is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Lurie Children’s is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Emergency medicine-focused research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Grainger Research Program in Pediatric Emergency Medicine.




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