Mental health ER visits in the U.S. is a worsening crisis for both children and adults. Emergency rooms (ER) are filling up with an increasing number of mental health emergencies, and child and adolescent mental health has been declared a national emergency. Vast amounts of data and research support these observed trends. In this post, we’re going to dive into mental health data across the country. 

The Current State of Adult and Child Mental Health

Mental illness is more common than most might think. 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, according to The National Alliance on Mental Health. While these vary in type and severity, the most common mental illnesses are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders. 

Only 45% of adults with a mental illness received treatment in 2019 for their conditions, meaning over half of the population with mental illnesses are not receiving the care they need. When it comes to youth, over 60% of children with major depression went without treatment. 

Rates of mental illness in adults and children have been increasing over time. For example, rates of depression increased 52% between 2005 and 2017 among adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old. From 2009 to 2017, rates of depression in young adults aged 18 to 25 years increased 63%

Data Deep Dive: Mental Health ER Visits

One major hospital department is seeing the effects of these increasing trends firsthand: the emergency department (ED). Mental health ER visits are on the rise in both kids and adults, a pattern that has been fueled by factors like the pandemic, social media, and other factors. Below we’ll break down trends in mental health ER visits by children and adults.

Teen standing at counter of mental health clinic

Kids’ Mental Health

As previously discussed, mental health issues have increased significantly in the last decade, and the first stop for treatment for a child’s mental health emergency tends to be the emergency room. These mental health emergency room visits for kids are on the rise — as are the wait times. Children who go to the ER for mental health emergencies often have to stay in the ED for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. 

Yale researchers found that visits of over six hours for pediatric mental health increased from 16% to 25% from 2005 to 2015. Stays longer than 12 hours increased from 5% to almost 13%. On top of that, children with a Hispanic ethnicity were almost three times more likely to stay in the emergency room for more than 12 hours. 

Data shows a clear inequity in access to prompt and effective mental health care. 

Adult Mental Health

Just like in children, visits to the ER for mental health conditions in adults are increasing. A 2020 study showed that 6% of all adult ED visits are related to mental health concerns. On top of that, many adults turn to substances to cope with mental health conditions, which sends many more to the ER. 

When substance abuse-related visits are combined with mental health emergencies, this accounts for 12.5% of all adult ED visits. Broken down by age group, the predominant age group that goes to the ER for mental health disorders is 18 to 44, according to the CDC

What Can Be Done to Improve Mental Health

There must be both macro- and micro-level improvements made to reverse the trend of the growing mental health crisis. On an individual level, mental health can be improved by: 

  • Openly talking about mental health
  • Finding a therapist
  • Changing your routine
  • Practicing mindfulness, gratitude, and positive thinking
  • Knowing when to go to the ER

On a societal level, large, institutional actions should be implemented, such as:

  • Creating more mental health-specific resources to prevent overloading EDs
  • Implementing mental health screening in schools
  • Improving telemedicine access for mental health care
  • Finding ways to make mental health care and treatment more affordable
  • Implementing state and federal policies that ensure equal access to mental health care

Keeping Patients Safe in ER Settings

The emergency department can be traumatic for patients in distress due to the noise, bright lights, changing staff, and ease of access to items that may be used for self-harming. Because so many patients head to the ER for mental illness, their safety needs to be a top priority. 

To help emergency department staff better care for patients experiencing a mental health crisis, ObservSMART was developed to make patient observations accurate and compliant. The ObservSMART system consists of a comfortable, noninvasive Bluetooth wristband worn by the patient that syncs to ED staff’s mini iPads. 

The system is proximity-based, which ensures patient monitoring is properly executed. This solution is suitable for both ER and behavioral health settings and can greatly reduce the risk of self-harm, suicide, or elopement. To request a product demo, contact our team to learn more about improving patient safety with ObservSMART.