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CDC: Proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased sharply amid pandemic

CDC: Proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased sharply amid pandemic
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The proportion of mental health-related pediatric visits to hospitals are on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis released Thursday.

The CDC data found mental health-related emergency room visits increased 31 percent for children between the ages of 12 and 17 from March to October compared to the same period in 2019. There was also a 24 percent increase in emergency room visits for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

The increase comes as in-person school schedules have been dramatically reduced to stem the spread of COVID-19, limiting children's interactions with peers and teachers. In addition, sports and extracurricular activities have been limited or canceled — conditions that could isolate children at home and causing anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and bad eating habits. 

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The CDC analyzed hospital data from 47 states that comprised about 75 percent of nationwide emergency room visits. One in 85 pediatric visits were mental health-related from March to October in 2019, compared to one in 60 in 2020.

The number of average weekly pediatric emergency room visits was 262,714 during the same March-October period in 2019 and 3,078 mental health-related visits. However, during a comparable period in 2020, the analysis found a weekly average of 149,055 visits, including 2,481 mental health-related visits. 

Researchers noted that reduced access to institutions like schools and community clinics may have left parents and children increasingly reliant on emergency rooms for those services.

“Ensuring availability of and access to developmentally appropriate mental health services for children outside the in-person ED setting will be important as communities adjust mitigation strategies. Implementation of technology-based, remote mental health services and prevention activities to enhance healthy coping and resilience in children might effectively support their well-being throughout response and recovery periods,” the analysis states.

“CDC supports efforts to promote the emotional well-being of children and families and provides developmentally appropriate resources for families to reduce stressors that might contribute to children’s mental health–related ED visits,” it continues.

The CDC also noted that the number of emergency room visits was higher among girls than boys.