The following is excerpted from an online article posted by HealthDay.
America’s emergency rooms are being flooded by children suffering from psychiatric emergencies like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts, a new joint report from three leading medical associations warns.
This surge in pediatric mental health emergencies has overwhelmed ERs in the United States, says the joint paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).
“The ER has become a de facto referral center for all of these problems, and there’s too many of them for the emergency department to manage,” said Saidinejad, a member of the AAP and ACEP committees on pediatric emergency medicine. “That is not who we are as ER physicians. We are not mental health professionals. We cannot provide definitive care.
The joint policy statement and technical report were published Aug. 16 in the journal Pediatrics.
Every year, about half a million children with mental and behavioral health problems are evaluated in ERs, the joint report says.
ER visits spurred by mental health problems increased by 120% at children’s hospitals between 2007 and 2016, the report said. The rate among general hospitals rose by 55% during the same period.
ER cases involving a pediatric mental health crisis tend to be very complex and require a much longer hospital stay – 17 hours versus 5 hours, on average, for all ER visits, the report says.
“Unfortunately, it is not unusual for patients with mental and behavioral emergencies to stay in the ED for over 48 hours, which can exacerbate their emergencies,” Joseph said.
These complex cases also drain “resources that would have been needed to run the normal medical operations of the ER, so that increases of length of stay for the other patients as well,” Saidinejad added.
It would be best if many of these children never reach an ER, but are instead referred to a psychiatric crisis center or community mental health center, Saidinejad said.
However, Saidinejad allowed that this isn’t an option for many communities due to a lack of mental health resources.
“For every 124,000 children, there is one mental health professional, which is completely inadequate,” Saidinejad said. “As many as 55% of all of the counties in the United States do not have one psychiatric professional.”