Story at a glance

  • A new study examining how long children wait for mental health care in the ER was published in the medical journal Pediatrics.
  • Only 16 percent of children who visited emergency rooms for mental health care actually saw a mental health provider.
  • Hispanic children are close to three times more likely than white children to experience a delay in care.

A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that children are waiting 8 percent longer in emergency departments to receive mental health care.

The study period spanned 11 years and found that pediatric mental health visits lasting more than six hours rose from 16.3 percent to 24.6 percent, while visits longer than 12 hours increased from 5.3 percent to 12.7 percent. 

“A mentor once told me to study what makes you angry,” Katherine Nash, author of the study, told Stat News. “And this is very much that.”


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While the study didn’t find a “significant difference” in the lengths of stay by the specific type of health insurance, it did find that “children who are traditionally marginalized as racial and ethnic minorities, living in poverty and/or publicly insured” were “particularly vulnerable” to prolonged waits.

Further, of these children, Hispanic children are close to three times more likely than white children to experience a delay in care. The disparity between Hispanic children and all other children was extraordinarily high, leading the authors to consider whether or not language barriers could account for it.

One of the most troubling findings uncovered that in addition to the prolonged waits for care, only 16 percent of children who visited emergency rooms for mental health care actually saw a mental health provider. 

“Every minute, every hour, every day a kid with mental health care [needs] spends in the ED is a delay in the care that they actually need,” said Nash.


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Published on Apr 06, 2021