Doctors call for systemic fixes to boost youth mental health care

  • Medical groups are urging action to improving youth mental health care
  • ER visits are on the rise for depression and suicidality
  • Recommendations include more uniform screening tools

(NewsNation) — A group of medical organizations is calling for systemic changes and strategies to improve mental health care for young people, who are increasingly showing up in emergency room for conditions including depression and suicidal thoughts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American College of Emergency Physicians and Emergency Nurses Association, say in a new policy statement that emergency departments across the nation need more support and resources to help youth in crisis.

“Many emergency departments lack sufficient personnel, capacity, and infrastructure to triage and treat patients with mental and behavioral emergencies,” Mohsen Saidinejad, a lead author of the policy statement, said in a news release. “This increases the likelihood of lengthy wait times, crowded facilities and other challenges that compromise patient care. In many cases, an inadequate mental health infrastructure gives families nowhere else to turn but the emergency department. It’s a dilemma we’re experiencing more often since the COVID pandemic began.”

The groups note that every year, approximately half a million children with mental health emergencies are evaluated in emergency rooms. The joint report shows that visits to the ER jumped more than 100% at children’s hospitals and 55% in general hospitals from 2007 to 2016.

Hospital stays are getting longer, too, because of the complexity of mental health cases.

Racial disparities also exist, with increased rates of suicide in Black school-aged children, the policy statement notes. It cites one study analyzing suicide rates in U.S. youth from 2001 to 2015, which found the suicide rate among children ages 5-12 was approximately two times higher for Black children than white children.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death with children between ages of 10 and 14, so when we say ‘how big is this, how large is this, I call it an epidemic,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Landerman-Garber.

To improve health care, the organizations recommend the implementation of strategies in prehospital settings, at emergency rooms and in communities. The report calls for more screening tools, telehealth for psychiatric consultations, mobile crisis teams, pediatric-trained mental health professionals and redesigns of emergency rooms to create low-stimulation and safe areas for patients.

“Children and adolescents deserve the best care when they come to the Emergency Department during a mental or behavioral health crisis, as anyone does. But many times, a lack of resources can complicate matters,” said Terry Foster, president of the Emergency Nurses Association. “An increase in treatment education and resources can only continue to improve the care provided for not just youth, but all mental and behavioral health patients.”


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