Electronic health records identify timely trends in childhood mental health conditions

Josephine Elia*, Kathleen Pajer, Raghuram Prasad, Andres Pumariega, Mitchell Maltenfort, Levon Utidjian, Elizabeth Shenkman, Kelly Kelleher, Suchitra Rao, Peter A. Margolis, Dimitri A. Christakis, Antonio Y. Hardan, Rachel Ballard, Christopher B. Forrest

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Electronic health records (EHRs) data provide an opportunity to collect patient information rapidly, efficiently and at scale. National collaborative research networks, such as PEDSnet, aggregate EHRs data across institutions, enabling rapid identification of pediatric disease cohorts and generating new knowledge for medical conditions. To date, aggregation of EHR data has had limited applications in advancing our understanding of mental health (MH) conditions, in part due to the limited research in clinical informatics, necessary for the translation of EHR data to child mental health research. Methods: In this cohort study, a comprehensive EHR-based typology was developed by an interdisciplinary team, with expertise in informatics and child and adolescent psychiatry, to query aggregated, standardized EHR data for the full spectrum of MH conditions (disorders/symptoms and exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), across 13 years (2010–2023), from 9 PEDSnet centers. Patients with and without MH disorders/symptoms (without ACEs), were compared by age, gender, race/ethnicity, insurance, and chronic physical conditions. Patients with ACEs alone were compared with those that also had MH disorders/symptoms. Prevalence estimates for patients with 1+ disorder/symptoms and for specific disorders/symptoms and exposure to ACEs were calculated, as well as risk for developing MH disorder/symptoms. Results: The EHR study data set included 7,852,081 patients < 21 years of age, of which 52.1% were male. Of this group, 1,552,726 (19.8%), without exposure to ACEs, had a lifetime MH disorders/symptoms, 56.5% being male. Annual prevalence estimates of MH disorders/symptoms (without exposure to ACEs) rose from 10.6% to 2010 to 15.1% in 2023, a 44% relative increase, peaking to 15.4% in 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. MH categories with the largest increases between 2010 and 2023 were exposure to ACEs (1.7, 95% CI 1.6–1.8), anxiety disorders (2.8, 95% CI 2.8–2.9), eating/feeding disorders (2.1, 95% CI 2.1–2.2), gender dysphoria/sexual dysfunction (43.6, 95% CI 35.8–53.0), and intentional self-harm/suicidality (3.3, 95% CI 3.2–3.5). White youths had the highest rates in most categories, except for disruptive behavior disorders, elimination disorders, psychotic disorders, and standalone symptoms which Black youths had higher rates. Median age of detection was 8.1 years (IQR 3.5–13.5) with all standalone symptoms recorded earlier than the corresponding MH disorder categories. Conclusions: These results support EHRs’ capability in capturing the full spectrum of MH disorders/symptoms and exposure to ACEs, identifying the proportion of patients and groups at risk, and detecting trends throughout a 13-year period that included the Covid-19 pandemic. Standardized EHR data, which capture MH conditions is critical for health systems to examine past and current trends for future surveillance. Our publicly available EHR-mental health typology codes can be used in other studies to further advance research in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Adverse childhood experience
  • Covid-19
  • Demographic risks
  • EHR-based typology
  • Electronic Health Records
  • ICD-CM
  • Pediatric Mental Health Disorders
  • Standalone symptoms
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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