Three prominent medical groups are begging for more support and resources as children and teens with mental health issues overwhelm emergency rooms across the US. Doctors said children as young as six are coming in, often referencing suicide.
Roughly half a million kids go to the emergency department with a mental health crisis every year, and the number is rising, according to a joint paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and Emergency Nurses Association (ENA).
The suicide rate has also grown since the pandemic — in 2021, 10.2 percent of US high school students said they had attempted to kill themselves in the past 12 months, up from around 8 percent in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr Madeline Joseph, a pediatric emergency physician at the University of Florida Health in Jacksonville, told UPI the stress and strain of the pandemic are partly to blame for the intensified mental health crisis among youths
As lockdowns were enacted, children were sent home from school and activities, leaving them feeling alone and isolated.
Doctors said children as young as six years old are coming into ERs, often referencing suicide
The CDC previously found that one in ten US high schoolers attempted suicide in 2021, up from 8.9 percent a year earlier. Females were struck hardest, with 13.3 percent attempting suicide that year
Despite seeking medical assistance, young kids taken to the ER are unlikely to get the help they desperately need, said lead author of the paper Dr Mohsen Saidinejad, a professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He said: ‘The ER has become a de facto referral center for all of these problems, and there’s too many of them for the emergency department to manage.’
He added: ‘We can screen, we can identify those at harm risk, but that’s about it, so the ER is really not the most appropriate place to manage these cases.
‘And I think we are becoming that because there isn’t any other place for these kids to be sent.’
‘That is not who we are as ER physicians. We are not mental health professionals. We cannot provide definitive care.’
The three leading medical bodies are pleading for local communities to increase access to mental health services before teens reach a crisis point where they require emergency care.
The joint policy statement and technical report were published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics.
Dr Willough Jenkins, medical director of emergency and consultation liaison psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, told NBC the amount of kids seeking psychiatric emergency care in her ER has skyrocketed from around 30 a month to 30 a day in the past few years.
She said: ‘The volume is astronomical, and I don’t know that people fully understand how many people are struggling. This crisis is only getting worse. It’s not getting better.’
In May, US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy said in an urgent health advisory that the country is experiencing ‘a national youth mental health crisis’ and pointed towards social media as another culprit.
Evidence has been mounting for years that social media is detrimental to youths, due to highly sophisticated algorithms that promote self-harm and other dangerous content to young users.