More resources needed for kids' mental health

500%+ jump in ED presentations
  • Deborah Condon

The number of children presenting to Temple Street Children's University Hospital with mental health problems jumped by over 500% between 2006 and 2016, a new study has shown.

Temple Street is one of the country's busiest children's hospital, treating around 145,000 sick children each year. Doctors at the hospital decided to analyse trends in mental health presentations to its Emergency Department (ED).

They found that overall attendance at the hospital's ED increased from 48,742 in 2006 to 52,287 in 2016 - a rise of 7%. However, during the same period, mental health presentations increased from 69 to 432 - that is a jump of 526%.

Just over half of these presentations occurred outside of standard working hours.

The researchers also carried out a more detailed analysis of the data available from September 2013 to August 2014. This revealed that the most common reason for presenting was suicidal ideation (34%), followed by deliberate self-harm (31%) and depression (11%). Other reasons included anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders.

"Looking at the data for the one-year study period, the majority of patients (66%) did not require hospital admission following an assessment by the ED staff and the psychiatry services where requested.

"Their input undoubtedly helps to signpost and support referral to local services and avoid unnecessary admissions, where such admissions may ultimately be unhelpful to young people and families," commented one of the study's authors, Dr Eoin Fitzgerald, a paediatric specialist registrar in the ED.

The researchers suggested that there may be a number of reasons why mental health presentations increased so much between 2006 and 2016, including a greater overall awareness of mental health in recent years.

They believe long waiting times for outpatient assessments could also have a role to play.

"Given the dramatic increase in mental health presentations, it is clear that carefully designed and integrated management strategies and additional resources will be required to proactively tackle this growing epidemic," Dr Fitzgerald added.

Details of these findings are published in the Irish Medical Journal.


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