May 4, 2023 - Health

Study: Mental health-related ER visits among young people nearly doubled in a decade

Illustration of a red cross floating in a life preserver.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Emergency room visits for young people in mental distress rose sharply over the last decade, per a report published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What they found: Between 2011 to 2020, emergency department visits among children, adolescents and young adults for mental health reasons approximately doubled, a group of researchers and physicians found.

  • This includes a five-time increase of visits for suicide-related symptoms.
  • The greatest increase was among adolescents, and was consistent across sex, race and ethnicity.

By the numbers: The weighted number of visits increased from 4.8 million to 7.5 million — that's more than 13% of all emergency room visits among youth, per the report.

  • Suicide-related visits increased from 0.9% to 4.2% of all pediatric visits.

Meanwhile, the total number of pediatric and young adult emergency room visits remained relatively stable in the same time frame.

Why it matters: "Trends in mental health–related emergency department visits are an important indicator of unmet outpatient mental health needs," the report states.

The big picture: There is a growing focus — and concern — over the mental health of youth, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.

What they're saying: "These findings underscore an urgent need to improve crisis and emergency mental health service capacity for young people, especially for children experiencing suicidal symptoms," the study concludes.

Of note: Experts are increasingly warning of a connection between heavy social media use and mental health issues in children, Axios's Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

  • As a result, states and local governments are starting to pursue legislation and legal action against social media companies.

Go deeper: The state of the teen mental health crisis — and how to help

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