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Young rely on ER for mental health needs

25th October 2011

The number of children and adolescents entering emergency rooms for psychiatric issues in the US has risen since 1999, according to a recent study.

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The number of uninsured children also rose during that period.

Lead researcher Zachary Pittsenberger, of the Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachussetts, said that more research would be needed to find out why children were being admitted to emergency rooms for psychiatric issues.

He said that researchers also wanted to know about the nature of the statistics, such as whether or not the same children were being admitted several times.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from nearly 280 million child hospital visits over a span of eight years.

They found that, over that period, the number of child psychiatric emergency room visits increased from 2.4% to 3% of total child visits to emergency departments.

Children who were either uninsured or insufficiently insured accounted for 46% of those visits in 1999. By 2007, eight years later, they accounted for 54% of the visits.

Pittsenberger said that the children had a limited number of options for mental health care, and that this was why they had ended up in the emergency departments of hospitals.

Recently, another research group at the same hospital showed that children and adolescents who presented in urban emergency rooms often went on to be admitted to those hospitals, if they lacked other healthcare options.

Even if a child has options for psychiatric care, they may still have to wait more than a day in a hospital emergency room before they go anywhere else.

Pittsenberger said that, when children ended up in emergency departments in need of psychiatric help, it was not because they felt that was the best place for care, but because they did not have any other options.

He said that he wanted to shine light on the fact that options for good mental health care simply did not exist for many people in the US, and that meanwhile hospitals were forced to take care of children who needed psychiatric attention.

The study authors wrote that, while the 0.6% increase recorded by the study may seem small, it translates to hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits every year.

Pittsenberger said that there were simply not enough paediatric mental health care options, considering the amount of need that already existed.

 

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