Physician Groups Appeal for Assistance as Emergency Rooms Overwhelmed by Children in Psychiatric Crisis

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Emergency room doctors and pediatricians are facing a concerning increase in the number of children and teenagers seeking help for mental he

Alan Daniels

Alan Daniels

19 August 2023 9:29 am

Physician Groups Appeal for Assistance as Emergency Rooms Overwhelmed by Children in Psychiatric Crisis

Emergency Room Visits for Pediatric Mental Health Issues on the Rise

Emergency room doctors and pediatricians are facing a concerning increase in the number of children and teenagers seeking help for mental health issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, and Emergency Nurses Association have released a joint paper highlighting the overwhelming surge of mental health emergencies among children. This influx has put a strain on emergency rooms, prompting doctors and nurses to call for assistance in dealing with this crisis.

Increasing Number of Children Seeking Emergency Care for Mental Health Crises

According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), an increasing number of children are seeking emergency care for mental health crises. The report states that these children are often experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts. The emergency room has become a primary point of referral for these issues, but the volume of cases is overwhelming for emergency departments to handle. Dr. Mohsen Saidinejad, the lead author of the report and director of pediatric emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, emphasizes the need for better management and resources to address this growing problem.

Half a Million Children with Mental Health Problems Visit Emergency Rooms Each Year

According to a joint paper by physician groups, around half a million children with mental or behavioral health problems visit emergency rooms each year. The number of such cases was already increasing before the pandemic, but the crisis has worsened due to the pandemic. Emergency room physicians emphasize that they are not mental health professionals and cannot provide definitive care for these children.

Complex Cases and Longer Hospital Stays

Emergency rooms are facing a challenge when it comes to pediatric mental health crises. These cases tend to be more complex and require longer hospital stays compared to other emergencies. On average, pediatric mental health stays in emergency rooms last around 17 hours, while the average stay for all emergencies is only five hours. This indicates the need for more resources and specialized care for children experiencing mental health crises.

Strain on Resources and Lack of Follow-up Care

Pediatric mental emergency visits are putting a strain on resources in the emergency room, affecting the normal medical operations and increasing the length of stay for other patients. According to an expert, children who go to emergency rooms for mental health crises are less likely to receive the necessary follow-up care compared to those who go to psychiatric crisis centers or community mental health centers. This highlights a concerning issue in the healthcare system regarding the availability and accessibility of mental health services for children.

Proposed Measures to Address the Crisis

Physician groups are urging for action to address the mental health crisis among children. They propose implementing community-based teams to respond to children in crisis at various locations, including schools, doctors' offices, and homes. They also suggest placing pediatric mental health professionals in emergency departments and providing support to emergency department staff with information about high-risk children. These measures aim to improve the mental health support available to children and address issues such as abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Severe Shortage of Mental Health Professionals

According to a recent study, the mental health system in the country needs to be expanded. The study reveals that there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals, with only one professional available for every 124,000 children. Additionally, more than half of all counties in the country do not have a single psychiatric professional. This highlights the urgent need for improving and expanding mental health services in the country.

Telehealth as a Potential Solution

Telehealth for children's mental health could be a valuable tool in preventing emergency room visits, according to experts. The authors of a study suggest that telehealth services could help treat children before their conditions escalate to the point of needing emergency care. Currently, emergency rooms are often the last resort for children with mental health issues, as they are obligated to accept any cases that come their way. By utilizing telehealth, healthcare providers could intervene earlier and potentially reduce the need for emergency room visits.

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