A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, has found that emergency department (ED) visits for mental health disorders among children have increased by 60%.

Researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at the numbers and reasons for ED visits related to mental health issues.

Senior study author Dr. Rachel Stanley said, “We would like children to go to their primary care provider or a psychiatrist, but EDs are the safety net for children with mental health disorders, and we need to be able to take care of them.”

“Knowing why children are going to the ED is essential to making sure the EDs are prepared to treat them appropriately,” she added.

Dr. Stanley is the Division Chief for Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

The researchers examined the ED visits for more than 10 years and found that most visits occurred at non-children’s EDs in both metropolitan and non-urban settings.

In general, the biggest increase in ED visits was among those aged between 15 and 17. While the ED visit rate grew among both males and females, the researchers found it more pronounced in girls.

The study also found that ED visits for substance abuse disorders increased by 75% and for deliberate self-harm increased by 329%. However, ED visits for alcohol-related disorders decreased by nearly 40%.

Lead study author and epidemiologist Charmaine Lo said, “Examining the characteristics of EDs that children present to was important because outcomes have been shown to be directly linked to the volume and geographic location of the EDs.”

The researchers said more studies are required to identify solutions that can better equip all EDs with the tools, personnel, and resources to better manage mental health issues in children and teenagers.

“The overall goal of our work is to improve preparedness of EDs for children,” Dr. Stanley said. “Large children’s hospitals with psychiatric providers can offer outreach services to these smaller EDs in the form of telehealth. Another solution is more training for emergency physicians and nurses so they know how to treat and triage children.”