Objective: Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the frequency with which children and adolescents with psychiatric symptoms present to emergency departments (ED). Recent trend data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey database suggest that the increase in ED use for mental health concerns is not driven by a rise in the frequency of medically serious suicide attempts but, rather, nonurgent diagnoses. The current paper is a systematic review of the existing research literature on child and adolescent psychiatric emergencies among nonsuicidal samples to assess the type and quality of the data reported. This is a first step in developing a profile of which children, in the absence of medically serious suicide attempt, seek psychiatric care in EDs.
Methods: Literature searches were conducted through PsycINFO, MEDLINE, and PubMed databases for the years 1990 through 2004. Twelve studies were identified as meeting inclusion criteria and were reviewed for general study information (ie, bibliography); quality indicators; study characteristics (ie, data source, location of study, method of subject recruitment, and study inclusion/exclusion criteria); subject characteristics, and outcome measures and results (specific outcome assessed, types of data analyses).
Results: Most of the studies were cross-sectional, retrospective chart reviews, with one data source. Only one study reported on all variables of interest, and there was no consistency in data collection or reporting across studies.
Conclusions: Although there has been a documented increase in children and adolescents seeking care for psychiatric emergencies in EDs, a clear and basic understanding of who these patients are cannot be determined from existing published research reports. Significant inconsistencies in data collection and reporting make recommendations for treatment planning and service delivery challenging. A research agenda in the field of child and adolescent psychiatric emergencies is proposed.