National Trends in Mental Health-Related Emergency Department Visits by Children and Adults, 2009–2015

This research was published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. The full study can be found here. A press release about the study is here.

A new study led by fellows at the USC Schaeffer Center shows mental health-related emergency department (ED) visits have increased substantially since 2009, a trend driven by large increases in adolescent and young adult visits to the emergency room for behavioral health-related diagnoses.

The study showed that for patients between 10 and 25 years old, annual growth rates for behavioral health-related visits were double those of older age groups.

Trends in Proportion of ED Visits With Mental Health Discharge Diagnosis, by Age



Examine trends in mental health-related emergency department (ED) visits, changes in disposition and length of stay (LOS), describe disposition by age and estimate proportion of ED treatment hours dedicated to mental health-related visits.


Trends in ED Visits Resulting in Admission or Transfer, 2009-2015

Retrospective analysis of ED encounters in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Visit Survey with a mental health primary, secondary or tertiary discharge diagnosis from 2009 to 2015. We report survey-weighted estimates of the number and proportion of ED visits that were mental health-related and disposition by age and survey year. We estimate the proportion of ED treatment hours dedicated to mental health-related visits. We analyze trends in disposition and LOS for mental health and non-mental health-related visits using multivariate regression analysis.


Mental health-related ED visits increased by 56.4% for pediatric patients and 40.8% for adults, accounting for over 10% of ED visits by 15–64 year-olds and nearly 9% by 10–14 year-olds in 2015. Mental health-related visit disposition of admission or transfer declined from 29.8% to 20.4% (p < .001); predicted median ED LOS for admissions or transfers increased from 6.5 to 9.0 hours while median LOS for discharges was stable at 4.4 hours. During the study period, mental health-related visits accounted for 5.0% (95% CI 4.6–5.3) of all pediatric and 11.1% (95% CI 11.0–11.3) of adult ED treatment hours.


Mental health-related visits account for an increasing proportion of ED visits and a considerable proportion of treatment hours. A decreasing proportion of mental health-related visits resulted in inpatient disposition and ED LOS increased for admissions and transfers.

Citation: Santillanes, G., Axeen, S., Lam, C. N., & Menchine, M. (2019). National trends in mental health-related emergency department visits by children and adults, 2009–2015. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.