Mental Health Problems in Children and Caregivers in the Emergency Department Setting

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Introduction:Although mental health problems are increasing in the primary care sector, the prevalence of mental health problems in families presenting for nonpsychiatric complaints in the emergency department (ED) setting is generally unknown. As such, we set out to assess the frequency of mental health concerns and associated risk factors in children presenting for care in a pediatric ED.Methods:A total of 411 mother-child dyads were randomly selected during a 2-year period from the less acute area of a large pediatric ED. Mothers were interviewed for child mental health concerns using structured diagnostic instruments. Mothers were also interviewed for their own mental health symptoms. Risk factor analysis for the outcome of a pediatric mental health concern was performed using bivariate and multivariate techniques.Results:Of all children, 45% met criteria for a mental health concern, with 23% of all children meeting criteria for two or more mental health concerns; 21% of mothers screened positive for a mental health problem themselves. Once adjusted, children whose mothers' screened positive for a mental illness were more likely to have a mental health concern themselves.Conclusion:There is a large burden of mental health concerns in children and their mothers presenting to the ED for medical care. Efficiently and accurately identifying mental illness in children presenting to a pediatric ED is the first step in the intervention process for a population that might otherwise slip through the system.

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