Pediatric mental health emergency department visits from 2017 to 2022: A multicenter study

Jennifer A. Hoffmann*, Camille P. Carter, Cody S. Olsen, David Ashby, Kamali L. Bouvay, Susan J. Duffy, James M. Chamberlain, Sofia S. Chaudhary, Nicolaus W. Glomb, Jacqueline Grupp-Phelan, Maya Haasz, Erin P. O'Donnell, Mohsen Saidinejad, Bashar S. Shihabuddin, Leah Tzimenatos, Neil G. Uspal, Joseph J. Zorc, Lawrence J. Cook, Elizabeth R. Alpern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected children's mental health (MH) and changed patterns of MH emergency department (ED) utilization. Our objective was to assess how pediatric MH ED visits during the COVID-19 pandemic differed from expected prepandemic trends. Methods: We retrospectively studied MH ED visits by children 5 to <18 years old at nine U.S. hospitals participating in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network Registry from 2017 to 2022. We described visit length by time period: prepandemic (January 2017–February 2020), early pandemic (March 2020–December 2020), midpandemic (2021), and late pandemic (2022). We estimated expected visit rates from prepandemic data using multivariable Poisson regression models. We calculated rate ratios (RRs) of observed to expected visits per 30 days during each pandemic time period, overall and by sociodemographic and clinical characteristics. Results: We identified 175,979 pediatric MH ED visits. Visit length exceeded 12 h for 7.3% prepandemic, 8.4% early pandemic, 15.0% midpandemic, and 19.2% late pandemic visits. During the early pandemic, observed visits per 30 days decreased relative to expected rates (RR 0.80, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.78–0.84), were similar to expected rates during the midpandemic (RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.96–1.07), and then decreased below expected rates during the late pandemic (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.86–0.98). During the late pandemic, visit rates were higher than expected for females (RR 1.10, 95% CI 1.02–1.20) and for bipolar disorders (RR 1.83, 95% CI 1.38–2.75), schizophrenia spectrum disorders (RR 1.55, 95% CI 1.10–2.59), and substance-related and addictive disorders (RR 1.50, 95% CI 1.18–2.05). Conclusions: During the late pandemic, pediatric MH ED visits decreased below expected rates; however, visits by females and for specific conditions remained elevated, indicating a need for increased attention to these groups. Prolonged ED visit lengths may reflect inadequate availability of MH services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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