Sep 8, 2022 - Health

Mental health hospital admissions have increased among youths

A multi-colored chart showing different reasons for hospital admission for youth and for adults.

Chart: Courtesy of Health Care Cost Institute.

Nearly a third of non-newborn pediatric hospital admissions from 2016 to 2020 were linked to mental health needs, according to a new report from the Health Care Cost Institute.

Why it matters: A high rate of inpatient mental health care could be a sign of inadequate preventive care and management of mental health needs in younger populations, researchers said.

  • Though mental health hospitalizations in kids picked up before the pandemic, accumulating evidence continues to show how the health crisis exacerbated the problem.
  • The Health Care Cost Institute report used data from employer-sponsored insurance claims, which cover about half of children in the United States.

What they found: Close to 30% of non-newborn pediatric admissions in 2020 were for mental health needs.

  • General acute care hospitals provided the vast majority of pediatric inpatient care while children's hospitals provided more specialty care like nervous system disorders and cancer treatments, the analysis found.
  • Health insurance companies and consumers are shelling out more money at children's hospitals than at general hospitals, which may reflect more "complex services" needed or offered, the study authors note.

Yes, but: The pandemic led to a significant drop in the number of hospitalized patients in all age groups.

The bottom line: Researchers didn't try to establish whether the hospitalizations were appropriate, adding in many cases, it may have been necessary and even life-saving.

  • But the uptick could point to a need for a broader system of mental health care, including access to care settings outside of the hospital.
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