Study Finds that Psychiatric Emergency Room Visits Increased Among US Youth (MD IDDRC)

April 5, 2019

In a recent study published in Pediatrics, Luther Kalb, PhD, core faculty member of the IDDRC at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, examined trends in psychiatric emergency department (ED) visits from 2011 to 2015 among youth ages 6 to 24 in the U.S.  Data for this study primarily came from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a national survey of ED visits across the US.

Dr. Kalb and colleagues found an overall 28% increase in psychiatric ED visits between 2011 and 2015 across the U.S., with the largest increase in 2015. Young adults, ages 17 to 24, had the highest number of psychiatric ED visits. However, the largest increase in visits over time was among adolescents and youth of color. Among adolescents, visits to the ED for suicide/self-injurious behaviors more than doubled in the 5 year time span. Surprisingly, only one in six youth who visited the ED for psychiatric concerns saw a mental health professional, despite very long visits (more than half of these visits were ≥3 hours in length).

Use of the ED for mental health reasons is also a growing issue among youth with developmental disabilities, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For instance, Dr. Kalb reported in a
previous study that youth, ages 3-17 years, with ASD were over 9 times more like to visit the ED for psychiatric reasons compared to youth without ASD in the US. Dr. Kalb has conducted research on a promising crisis prevention and intervention program, the START Model, which is associated with reductions in psychiatric ED visits for youth with and without ASD.