The coronavirus pandemic had a big effect on emergency room visits for children suffering mental health crises, researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
While fewer children and teens were seen in emergency departments for mental health issues during the pandemic, they made up a bigger proportion of ER visits than before – suggesting that problems were serious enough to overcome concerns about visiting hospitals, the researchers said.
The team set out to see if there was evidence of more mental health trauma among children because of the pandemic. They found a 43% decrease the number of mental health–related emergency department visits among children starting in March.
But the proportion of these visits compared to other emergency related visits rose by 44%, they found.
“This report demonstrates that, whereas the overall number of children’s mental health–related ED visits decreased, the proportion of all ED visits for children’s mental health–related concerns increased, reaching levels substantially higher beginning in late-March to October 2020 than those during the same period during 2019,” they wrote.
“Children’s mental health warranted sufficient concern to visit EDs during a time when nonemergent ED visits were discouraged.”
The findings “provide initial insight into children’s mental health in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and highlight the importance of continued monitoring of children’s mental health throughout the pandemic, ensuring access to care during public health crises, and improving health coping strategies and resiliency among children and families.”
The team used data from the CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program from January 1 to October 17, 2020 and the same period during 2019. This emergency department data includes a subset of hospitals in 47 states and represents around 73% of emergency department visits in the US.