The association between serious psychological distress and emergency department utilization among young adults in the USA

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2012 Jun;47(6):939-47. doi: 10.1007/s00127-011-0401-9. Epub 2011 Jun 5.


Purpose: Psychological problems could lead to several adverse health outcomes and were strongly correlated with cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. In addition, patients treated in EDs were vulnerable to psychological problems. We therefore examined the population-level association between serious psychological distress (SPD) and emergency department (ED) use among young adults in the USA. We also studied the additive effects of SPD, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption on the ED presentation.

Methods: The study sample contains 16,873 individuals, using data from the National Health Interview Survey, from 2004 to 2006. Bivariate analyses with chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses are performed.

Results: Young adults having SPD were 2.05 times more likely to go to an ED. People having SPD and being a current smoker were 2.52 times more likely to use services in an ED. However, people having SPD and being a heavy drinker did not have a significantly elevated risk of ED use.

Conclusion: An association between SPD and ED use among US young adults is established in this study. Attempts to decrease excess ED use and the development of strategies to improve mental health among young adults are needed to improve patient health and reduce the health-care burden of high costs and deteriorating ED care quality.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Psychometrics
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult