Numbers Rise on Adolescents Seeking Medical Care for Mental Health

November 17, 2019

Youth in California are seeking more help than ever in the last decade.

Less than 10 years ago, the emergency department at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego would see around one or two young psychiatric patients per day. However, today, at least 10 to 20 youth patients are being seen in the same department, according to a report by Kaiser Health.

Dr. Benjamin Maxwell, the hospital’s interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry, says in the report it isn’t unusual for the emergency room to see that many patients today.

He says what’s happening is kids aren’t getting the care they need until it gets to the point where it’s dangerous.

Not only are more of the youth being seen in this particular hospital, but more in all of California and the nation.

Emergency rooms (ER) throughout California are reporting a sharp increase in adolescents and young adults seeking care for a mental health crisis, the report says.

In 2018, California ERs treated 84,584 young patients ages 13 to 21 who had a primary diagnosis involving mental health. That is up from 59,705 in 2012, a 42% increase, according to data provided by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Related: Support for Mental Health Coverage Gains Momentum

The report states this mental health crisis is mostly affecting youth who are born after 1997, or Generation Z, as well as millennials. These generations are facing these issues with their mental health due to a number of reasons.

Many recent theories call to rise social media, where acts of bullying and personal insecurities can develop.

In the report, Susan Coats, a school psychologist at Baldwin Park Unified School District near Los Angeles, says this particular generation was raised with social media. This can lead to the youth feeling more disconnected, bullied, judged and pressured from their peers.

Members of this generation also report significant levels of stress about current issues such as climate change, mass-shootings, and personal issues like personal debt, housing and hunger.

Members of Generation Z also report in a survey significant levels of stress about personal debt, housing instability and hunger, as well as mass shootings and climate change.

In the rise of mental health issues, more communities are seeing an increase in youth suicides.

Resources to prevent mental health crisis among youth are often lacking, especially in many California school districts, the report says.

Maxwell says in the report medical providers also are struggling to keep up.

“Many times there aren’t psychiatric beds available for kids in our community,” he says.

However, if members of this generation visit the ER for their mental health and fear it’s affecting their lives, they are immediately seen by a social worker with proper care and guidance.

Rady Children’s Hospital plans to open a six-bed, 24-hour psychiatric emergency department in the early 2020, the report says.

Maxwell says in the report, improving emergency care will help, but a better solution would be to create more resources and to intervene with young people before they need an ER.