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New study shows mental health emergencies rose for kids during pandemic

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) — Children saw a rise in recent years for mental health emergency room visits, according to a study published today. Young girls in particular may be facing higher risks. This study looked at emergency room data from multiple hospitals across the country.

The study looked at data from 2017-2022, the data shows that during the pandemic emergency departments focused on children saw an increase in admissions. Further, medical professionals noted an increase in the number of severe conditions -- like bipolar disorder, substance use disorders (SUDs) and schizophrenia.

In many areas, the demand for inpatient services couldn't be met -- leading to long wait times. The Children's Hospital of Chicago, who was involved in the research, says the sometimes the wait times were over 12 hours "awaiting admission for nearly 20 percent of children with mental health emergencies in 2022, up from 7 percent before the pandemic."

“The dramatic increase in prolonged ED stays attests to the strain on the system and difficulties finding appropriate psychiatric care for children, whether in the hospital or in the community,"said lead author Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Her team studied mental health ED visits by children aged 5 to less than 18 years at nine U.S. hospitals participating in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network Registry. They described these visits by period – pre-pandemic (January 2017-February 2020), early pandemic (March 2020-December 2020), mid pandemic (2021) and late pandemic (2022).

“Our data shows that pediatric emergency departments saw more severe mental health presentations during the pandemic, even while the actual number of visits decreased in 2022," Dr. Hoffmann said.

In addition to the increased severity of mental health emergencies, they found that during the mid and late pandemic, mental health ED visits increased beyond expected rates among girls, but not among boys.

Dr. Hoffmann says there was a "unique vulnerability for girls" in the COVID pandemic, indicating girls may need more attention.

Avery Martinez covers mental health in the Borderland as part of ABC-7’s Be Mindful initiative. He is also a Report for America corps member. RFA places talented, emerging journalists in newsrooms like ABC-7’s to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.

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Avery Martinez


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