Mental health ED visits in children up mid-March to October 2020

From mid-March to October 2020, there was an increase in the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits among children and adolescents, according to research published in the Nov. 13 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Rebecca T. Leeb, Ph.D., from the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues examined changes in mental health-related emergency department visits among U.S. children aged younger than 18 years using data from the CDC National Syndromic Surveillance Program from Jan. 1 through Oct. 17, 2020, compared with 2019.

The researchers found that compared with 2019, in 2020, the average reported number of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits overall was higher during weeks 1 to 11 (Jan. 1 to March 15, 2020), while there was a similar proportion of children’s mental health-related visits. The number of mental health-related emergency department visits decreased 43 percent among children, beginning in week 12 (March 16), concurrent with widespread implementation of COVID-19 mitigation measures. Beginning in mid-March and continuing into October (weeks 12 to 42), the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits increased sharply, with increases of 24 and 31 percent among children aged 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 years, respectively, compared with the same period in 2019.

“Ongoing collection of a broad range of children’s mental health data outside the emergency department is needed to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and the effects of public health emergencies on children’s mental health,” the authors write.