New data analyzed by the American College of Emergency Physicians has revealed that children with mental illnesses are far more likely than children with medical illnesses to be admitted to the Emergency Room and to stay there for extended periods of time.
Children presenting with psychiatric crises were slightly less than twice as likely to be admitted to the ER as children in medical crises, and they were slightly more than twice as likely to stay there longer than 24 hours. Thomas Chun, an associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown University, explains that "[the] crazy, chaotic environment [of the ER] is not a good place" for psychiatric patients. However, they may be forced to visit the ER because of a shortage of outpatient or even inpatient mental health facilities in their area.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Lippert, a clinical assistant professor in emergency medicine at Stanford University, emphasizes that families may often use ER resources for a child in a psychiatric emergency because they are unable to afford preventive mental health care in the long term. This may be especially true for families who are uninsured, and, as Kaiser Health News points out, "about 22 percent of mental health patients lacked [insurance] coverage, versus 15 percent for physical conditions" in this latest study. For uninsured or low-income families, a typical mental health care visit may be a trade off with "a week's worth of groceries" in terms of cost.