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Mental health crisis: Hospital admissions for kids and young adults have doubled since 2016


A new report examining health insurance data finds sharp increases in emergency department visits, suicidal ideation and admissions for anxiety.

More children and young people are showing up in hospitals with mental health issues, and a new report offers more evidence on the growing crisis.

The number of mental health hospitalizations more than doubled from 2016 to 2022, according to a report released today by Clarify Health. The number of mental health hospitalizations among kids and young adults rose 124% during those years, the report states. The firm analyzed health insurance claims data from 24.5 million children and adults up to 21 years of age during that span.

The report found a 45% increase in emergency department visits for mental health reasons. In addition, hospitals witnessed a 74% increase in emergency department visits for suicidal ideation, attempts and other intentional self-harm.

For some conditions, hospitalizations almost tripled from 2016 to 2022.

The number of hospitalizations for anxiety and fear-related disorders rose 250% in that span, according to the report. There was a 221% increase in admissions for feeding and eating-related disorders.

"These statistics are a stark reminder of the burden our youngest citizens are carrying, and we need to urgently dedicate resources to treating and reversing these issues,” Niall Brennan, chief analytics and privacy officer for Clarify Health, said in a statement.

Hospitals and healthcare advocacy organizations have been trying to draw attention to the mental health needs of young people.

Ben Maxwell of Rady Children's has seen a surge in pediatric patients with mental health needs. (Photo: Rady Children's)

Ben Maxwell of Rady Children's has seen a surge in pediatric patients with mental health needs. (Photo: Rady Children's)

Ben Maxwell, the interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children's, told Chief Healthcare Executive® in December that the system has seen a surge of people hospitalized for mental health issues.

“It’s beyond unprecedented for us at this point,” Maxwell said.

In 2011, Rady Children’s saw less than 200 patients in the emergency department for psychiatric crises. In 2022, more than 4,700 patients were seen for psychiatric emergencies, Maxwell said.

“We now see in a busy week what we used to see in an entire year,” Maxwell said. “Unprecedented isn't even in the ballpark. It’s a tsunami of patients slipping through the cracks.”

Katy Welkie, Intermountain Health’s vice president of children’s health and CEO of Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital, said the system has also seen more children admitted for behavioral health. Intermountain is working to expand its behavioral health services to meet those needs as part of a broad $600 million pediatric health campaign.

Intermountain has seen a 300% increase in children coming into emergency departments for behavioral health issues over the last several years, Welkie told Chief Healthcare Executive in a December 2022 interview.

“We are seeing lots of kids with depression and anxiety,” she said. She added that many are arriving in the emergency department, “which I think is something that we really want to try and avoid. Because emergency departments aren't the best place for kids with behavioral health issues.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and more than 100 other groups signed a letter in October asking President Biden to declare a national emergency due the youth mental health crisis.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory about the mental health crisis in youth in December 2021.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers free, 24/7 support for those in distress. Call or text 988.

Data Book podcast: Mimi Winsberg of Brightside Health talks about expanding mental health services

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