Why are emergency rooms the new gateway for mental health help?

I hope everyone has a healthy, safe and happy Thanksgiving and same to your loved ones. The holidays can be rough on people who may be on their own or dealing with some issues. I can say there are some great people on Twitter I have gotten to know in the mental health community, and they love it when people reach out as they love to be there for them. I hope you feel that it is ok to not feel alone and type out to people who are caring and want to help If someone is in need. Hey, you can always drop me a line and say hi and chat at me as well.

I recently wrote about how poor mental health resources were for young people across the nation. Pediatricians and school personnel are getting extra training on how to spot and help children in mental health distress. Unfortunately, these locations are not appearing to be the entry way when children and teen need assistance.

Welcome to your local emergency room, there were about 1.12 million visits to emergency departments for children ages 5 to 18 for either suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts in 2015. That was up from 580,000 in 2007.

In California alone, children – many of them 5 to 11 year of age – are packing emergency rooms with problems ranging from anxiety and depression to contemplating or attempting suicide. Much like the pediatricians and schools, personnel in emergency rooms do not have proper training and lack personnel to handle issues outside of those physically related. This is still not stopping the escalation of the problem which has risen almost 50 percent in the past 10 years,

Most of the adolescents who come into the emergency room during a mental health crisis are considering suicide, have attempted suicide or have harmed themselves. These patients are triaged and quickly seen by a social worker. Often, a behavioral health assistant is assigned to sit with the patients throughout their stay. However, anyone who has been to an ER knows about long wait times and this may escalate the problem.

Emergency rooms are trying to combat the problem with staffing increases and more training for all staff on how to deal with these patients.

In Chicago, a study found that over a nine-year period, there were about 1.12 million visits to emergency departments for children ages 5 to 18 for either suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts in 2015. That was up from 580,000 in 2007. 43% of the visits were for young children – ages 5 to 11.

Nationwide, all emergency room visits in that time period for children, visits for suicidal thoughts and attempts rose from 2.17% to 3.5%. Most patients tracked in the data did not go to specialized pediatric centers, and most emergency departments are not, in general, adequately equipped to deal with this problem.

Even after getting a child to the ER, getting someone, they can trust can be difficult and bringing up suicide and other screening questions can also escalate the problem.

From psychologists to school personnel to now those working in emergency rooms across the country, the system is overburdened.

Sadly, there is also the financial burden many families take into consideration when this kind of crisis occurs, If insurance is unwilling to cover certain emergency room expenses related to mental health, costs can escalate quickly and low income parents face difficult decisions about the care of their child versus going into medical debt,. There is also the choice of admitting their child as opposed to seeking help elsewhere and risking further damage to their son or daughter. No emergency room will ever turn someone in distress away, but the related expenses can add up quickly. This is a sad and often tragic reality as to why we need serious mental health reform laws in the United States.

There are cities like San Antonio and states like Massachusetts that are opening more children’s care facilities to address the issues related to mental health and physical harm. AT the federal level, studies are being doing to see how to best deal with these issues.

Meantime, a trip to the emergency room is not what it used to be. Especially with so many children in severe mental and physical pain.

My heart goes out to them and all the hard-working personnel at these facilities. There jobs are often thankless and now their burden is increasing.

Thank you to the doctors, nurses, orderlies and staff for your service and dedication.

What do you think about emergency rooms being used to treat mental health issues? Please leave a comment.

6 thoughts on “Why are emergency rooms the new gateway for mental health help?

  1. It is an emergency room so understand the need to go there in a crisis however the staff in the ED are not specialized in mental health care. I often tell patients to go if they need to however we have many crisis protocols in place where I work and would rather them contact us.


  2. Oh god, this is so important and so relevant and so under… what’s the word I’m looking for hear. Under… spoken of? It’s not talked about… how frequently mental health issues are affecting kids.Thank you for writing this. And thank you for your thoughts. I really appreciate the way you write and the way you convey your topic.


  3. As someone who deals with mental health issues and knows many others who do too, sometimes the ER is the only place to go. To them, in that moment, it’s an emergency. It’s their life. So, I do think that the ER is an okay place to go, If only just for a space to be around people who will make sure your okay.
    This is a great article! Thank you for writing.


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