3. A surge in children seeking mental health care
Emergency departments aren't prepared for the huge increase in children seeking mental health care, according to a recent study.
The big picture: Even before the coronavirus pandemic — which is expected to exacerbate the problem — there was exponential growth in hospital visits by children for mental health emergencies, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports.
What they did: The team at Nationwide Children's Hospital examined data from 2007 to 2016 for children aged 5–17 who visited emergency departments for a mental or behavioral disorder (this did not differentiate if it was the primary or secondary reason for the visit).
What they found: Overall, the number of kids' visits remained stable over the decade, but those presenting with mental health disorders rose 60%.
- Visits from children with deliberate self-harm, which includes attempted suicide, cutting and ingestion, jumped by 329%.
- Those related to substance use disorder increased by 159%, but alcohol-related disorders dropped 39%.
- They were unable to see the exact type of substances being abused, but there was a particularly high jump from 2014 to 2016 "that kind of falls in line with the opioid epidemic that we're facing right now," says Charmaine Lo, co-author of the study in the journal Pediatrics and senior research scientist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
However, they found a dearth in preparedness to properly handle the children who come in with these needs, partly because they were not pediatric-focused facilities or were in rural areas without training.
- The National Pediatric Readiness Project reports less than half of EDs are prepared to treat children, Lo adds.
What they're saying: "While I know these findings are sad, the good news is that they're seeking help. ... Now, there's less stigma," Lo says.
- But "every emergency department needs to be prepared to take care of the kids," she adds.
What's next: Lo says all emergency departments — rural, metropolitan, pediatric and non-pediatric — need to educate their providers with mental health-specific training and utilize current tools.