Emergency Department Visits Unsuccessful in Alleviating Mental Health Issues for Children and Teens

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a new study, “Follow-Up after Pediatric Mental Health Emergency Visits.” The study found that more than one-quarter of children with an emergency department visit for mental health will return to the ED or hospitalization within 6 months. Researchers studied data on 28,551 children ages 6-17 years from a Medicaid database who had a mental health related emergency department visit from January 2018 to June 2019 and found 6.5% of children had a return to acute care within 7 days, 12.8% within 30 days, and 26.5% within 6 months.

Additionally, after discharge from the emergency department, just 31.2% had a mental health follow up visit within 7 days, and 55.8% within 30 days. Rates of timely follow-up among Black children were particularly low, with 10% fewer receiving follow-up care within 30 days compared to white children. Timely follow-up within 30 days was associated with a 26% decreased risk of an emergency room return within 5 days but an increased risk of return thereafter, indicating that those with follow-up care may have had more severe mental health issues.

Researchers concluded that these high emergency room return rates for children with mental health concerns suggest that acute care may not be effective sources of care for management of mental health crises for children and adolescents. More research is needed to understand the quality of mental health care that children are receiving in acute and follow-up care.