National Trends in Mental Health-Related Emergency Department Visits Among Youth, 2011-2020

JAMA. 2023 May 2;329(17):1469-1477. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.4809.


Importance: There has been increasing concern about the burden of mental health problems among youth, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends in mental health-related emergency department (ED) visits are an important indicator of unmet outpatient mental health needs.

Objective: To estimate annual trends in mental health-related ED visits among US children, adolescents, and young adults between 2011 and 2020.

Design, setting, and participants: Data from 2011 to 2020 in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, an annual cross-sectional national probability sample survey of EDs, was used to examine mental health-related visits for youths aged 6 to 24 years (unweighted = 49 515).

Main outcomes and measures: Mental health-related ED visits included visits associated with psychiatric or substance use disorders and were identified by International Classification of Diseases-Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM; 2011-2015) and ICD-10-CM (2016-2020) discharge diagnosis codes or by reason-for-visit (RFV) codes. We estimated the annual proportion of mental health-related pediatric ED visits from 2011 to 2020. Subgroup analyses were performed by demographics and broad psychiatric diagnoses. Multivariable-adjusted logistic regression analyses estimated factors independently associated with mental health-related ED visits controlling for period effects.

Results: From 2011 to 2020, the weighted number of pediatric mental health-related visits increased from 4.8 million (7.7% of all pediatric ED visits) to 7.5 million (13.1% of all ED visits) with an average annual percent change of 8.0% (95% CI, 6.1%-10.1%; P < .001). Significant linearly increasing trends were seen among children, adolescents, and young adults, with the greatest increase among adolescents and across sex and race and ethnicity. While all types of mental health-related visits significantly increased, suicide-related visits demonstrated the greatest increase from 0.9% to 4.2% of all pediatric ED visits (average annual percent change, 23.1% [95% CI, 19.0%-27.5%]; P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: Over the last 10 years, the proportion of pediatric ED visits for mental health reasons has approximately doubled, including a 5-fold increase in suicide-related visits. These findings underscore an urgent need to improve crisis and emergency mental health service capacity for young people, especially for children experiencing suicidal symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / psychology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital* / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Service, Hospital* / trends
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Needs and Demand* / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Needs and Demand* / trends
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mental Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Health* / trends
  • Pandemics
  • Suicide* / psychology
  • Suicide* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult