The Management of Children and Youth With Pediatric Mental and Behavioral Health Emergencies

Ann Emerg Med. 2023 Sep;82(3):e97-e105. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2023.06.003.


Mental and behavioral health (MBH) emergencies in children and youth continue to increasingly affect not only the emergency department (ED), but the entire spectrum of emergency medical services for children, from prehospital services to the community. Inadequate community and institutional infrastructure to care for children and youth with MBH conditions makes the ED an essential part of the health care safety net for these patients. As a result, an increasing number of children and youth are referred to the ED for evaluation of a broad spectrum of MBH emergencies, from depression and suicidality to disruptive and aggressive behavior. However, challenges in providing optimal care to these patients include lack of personnel, capacity, and infrastructure, challenges with timely access to a mental health professional, the nature of a busy ED environment, and paucity of outpatient post-ED discharge resources. These factors contribute to prolonged ED stays and boarding, which negatively affects patient care and ED operations. Strategies to improve care for MBH emergencies, including systems level coordination of care, is therefore essential. The goal of this policy statement and its companion technical report is to highlight strategies, resources, and recommendations for improving emergency care delivery for pediatric MBH.

Keywords: behavioral health; emergency department; emergency medical services for children; medical home; mental health; primary care provider; school and community mental health services; telepsychiatry; whole person care.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders* / therapy
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Female
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health Services