Characteristics and Triage of Children Presenting in Mental Health Crisis to Emergency Departments at Detroit Regional Hospitals

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The number of children in the United States utilizing emergency department (ED) services for psychiatric crises is increasing, and psychiatric-related ED visits disproportionately burden hospital resources. Yet, there is limited available information on the epidemiology and outcomes of pediatric mental health emergencies. The present study sought to characterize pediatric mental health–related ED presentations in a large urban center and identify factors predictive of inpatient hospitalization.


Data were analyzed from a sample of 225 children (120 female and 105 male children), aged 5 to 18 years, who presented in mental health crisis to Detroit regional EDs over a 27-month period. A trained mental health professional used the Crisis Assessment Tool to assess all children.


Thirty-eight percent of children presented with severe depression symptoms, and 52% were judged to be at acute risk of suicide, most of whom were female. Sixteen percent of the sample presented with severe psychotic features, and 34% were assessed as being at risk of harming others. Following assessment, 86% of the sample was directed to inpatient treatment, and no sex differences were found in treatment disposition. Risk of suicide, poor judgment, symptoms of psychosis, and risk of danger to others were all found to be significant predictors of subsequent inpatient hospitalization.


Results provide descriptive information regarding child psychiatric emergency presentations in the city of Detroit. The identified factors that help determine triage to inpatient hospitalization suggest areas for possible resource allocation and potential ED-based intervention.

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