Paediatric mental and physical health presentations to emergency departments, Victoria, 2008-15

Med J Aust. 2018 May 7;208(8):343-348. doi: 10.5694/mja17.00434. Epub 2018 Apr 23.


Objectives: To identify trends in presentations to Victorian emergency departments (EDs) by children and adolescents for mental and physical health problems; to determine patient characteristics associated with these presentations; to assess the relative clinical burdens of mental and physical health presentations.

Design: Secondary analysis of Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD) data. Participants, setting: Children and young people, 0-19 years, who presented to public EDs in Victoria, 2008-09 to 2014-15.

Main outcome measures: Absolute numbers and proportions of mental and physical health presentations; types of mental health diagnoses; patient and clinical characteristics associated with mental and physical health presentations.

Results: Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the number of mental health presentations increased by 6.5% per year, that of physical health presentations by 2.1% per year; the proportion of mental health presentations rose from 1.7% to 2.2%. Self-harm accounted for 22.5% of mental health presentations (11 770 presentations) and psychoactive substance use for 22.3% (11 694 presentations); stress-related, mood, and behavioural and emotional disorders together accounted for 40.3% (21 127 presentations). The rates of presentations for self-harm, stress-related, mood, and behavioural and emotional disorders each increased markedly over the study period. Patients presenting with mental health problems were more likely than those with physical health problems to be triaged as urgent (2014-15: 66% v 40%), present outside business hours (36% v 20%), stay longer in the ED (65% v 82% met the National Emergency Access Target), and be admitted to hospital (24% v 18%).

Conclusions: The number of children who presented to Victorian public hospital EDs for mental health problems increased during 2008-2015, particularly for self-harm, depression, and behavioural disorders.

Keywords: Adolescent psychiatry; Child psychiatry; Emergency services, medical; Emergency services, psychiatric; Mental disorders; Paediatric emergency medicine; Paediatrics.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases, Factual
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Victoria / epidemiology
  • Young Adult