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Kids in Crisis - Pediatric Mental Health Emergencies

Posted by Brian Spence on Dec 3, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Mental HealthAnxiety, depression, behavioral problems and other mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in emergency rooms across the country. From 2012 to 2016, the rate of children seeking urgent care treatment for mental health issues increased by 55%, states a study headed by Anna Abrams, M.D., resident physician, Children's National Health System, Washington, D.C. 

She and her colleagues followed ER visits for psychological problems in 45 hospitals over the five year period. Abrams was prompted to investigate the rates of mental health presentations in emergent situations after seeing a marked upturn in the number of similar cases in her own clinic.

The median age for kids with these problems is thirteen, but children much younger than that have displayed symptoms of mental distress, such as depression, that impede a child's progress in school or affect family relations in the home.

Abrams and her team found that with the increased instances of emergency mental health, minorities and children of poverty were over-represented. African-American children visits went up by 64%, but Hispanics outpaced them with an alarming 77%. Latinos attempt suicide more often than other minorities.

Do cultural and monetary differences contribute to the disparity among ethnic groups and the mental health of young people? There is much speculation about the stressors that cause depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. Add to that the physiological elements responsible for personality disorders that may have genetic components, i.e. bipolar, schizophrenia.

Abrams and other health care professionals want to address the problems for all youth in crisis, and early intervention is the key. Addressing issues as early as possible can prevent maladaptive coping behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse in later adolescence. Access to mental health care is essential for a good outcome. Pediatricians, school personnel and especially parents should be made aware of symptoms that could be indicative of trouble: sudden changes in behavior, low energy, loss of interest in usual activities, inappropriate anger outbursts, falling grades, and other signs of stress that are concerning.

Help is available from the National Institutes of Health on the Help for Mental Illness page. Finding therapy can help children overcome the pain of mental illness and avoid tragic consequences of untreated disorders. The overarching goal is to produce a population of youth who will grow up to be well-adjusted, adaptable, competent adults.

To learn more about this and related topics, visit the Mental Health section of our blog.


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