Pediatric mental health emergencies increase with every COVID-19 wave in New York City

October 30, 2023

2 min read

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Key points:

  • Young women accounted for more than half of mental health emergencies in the study.
  • One researcher believes the pandemic is exacerbating childhood mental health issues.

Child mental health emergencies increase with each COVID-19 wave in New York City, study shows Pediatrics established.

The survey is based on the author’s experience working in the city’s medical center during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re still seeing a fair number of pediatric mental health emergencies, and we knew this was already an issue before the pandemic,” Deborah A. Levine, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine and Clinical Pediatrics at Komansky Children’s Hospital at Weill Cornell Medical College told Healio. “We have a higher percentage of children with mental health emergencies among our patients, so that prompted us to conduct research not only within our institution, but throughout the city.”

Levine and colleagues examined data from the INSIGHT Clinical Research Network, a database covering five major medical centers in the five boroughs, which Levine said includes “a significant portion” of New York City hospital visits.

“New York City is so unique, being the first big epicenter [of the virus in the U.S.], such a dense urban setting with such a diverse patient population,” Levine said. “We wanted to see if New York City had its own problem that we could solve locally and see if it would generalize nationally. and other patient populations around the world. “

In a cross-sectional time series analysis, the authors looked specifically at children aged 5 to 17 years starting in 2016 and followed them through five COVID-19 waves based on the main variants through June 2022:

  1. The first wave is from March 1 to July 31, 2020;
  2. The second wave, from August 1, 2020 to June 18, 2021;
  3. The third wave, from June 19 to November 30, 2021;
  4. Wave 4, lasting from December 1, 2021 to March 5, 2022; and
  5. The fifth wave, from March 6 to June 12, 2022.

Levine added that they also looked at demographic data based on age, race, ethnicity and a Child Opportunity Index based on ZIP code, which gave the authors “ideas about the socioeconomics.” The authors also used the New York State Stringency Index to find the relationship between pediatric mental health emergencies and restrictions implemented across the state.

“It’s interesting to actually see the progression of pediatric mental health emergencies during that time,” Levine said. “We also want to know, is the change in prevalence related to the number of COVID-19 cases, is it related to state-level restrictions?”

Of the 686,500 visits, 4% were for emergency room visits for mental health exams. Within this group, which totaled 27,168 visits, 46% were male, 37% were Hispanic, 16% were black, and 41% of zip codes had low Child Opportunity Index scores. While they found no correlation between increased visits and COVID-19 prevalence or stringency index ratings, visits did increase in each wave for women, Asians and those with higher opportunity index children.

Levine said the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems.

“At the end of these five waves, it’s still higher than we thought we would have been without the pandemic,” Levine said.

“Strengthening pediatric mental health resources will be critical to address their findings,” the authors wrote.

“This is a wake-up call that we need to identify root causes and more potential targets for intervention to help mitigate this crisis,” Levine said. “Our overall goal is to keep kids out of the emergency room and keep them safe at home. ”

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