Identifying Undiagnosed Pediatric Mental Illness in the Emergency Department

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Abstract

Background

It is well known that pediatric psychiatric patients frequent emergency department (ED), but the number of patients with undiagnosed psychiatric illness presenting to an ED is not well known. Identification and referral of these patients may provide an opportunity for improved patient care. The primary study objective was to identify a tool that can screen for unsuspected psychiatric illness in pediatric patients who present to the ED with non–psychiatric-related complaints.

Methods

The MINI International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents screening tool was administered to 200 pediatric consenting patients and guardians. The inclusion criteria were English-speaking patients who presented in the ED with a nonpsychiatric complaint who were stable and able to communicate. The study was conducted in a level 1 trauma center ED of an inner-city hospital that serves a predominantly African American and Hispanic population. This study was institutional review board approved.

Results

The study populations consisted of 53% African American (107), 45% Hispanic (90), 1% white (2), and 0.5% Asian (1). Their age range was divided, with 49% between 12 and 14 years (98) and 51% between 15 and 17 years (102). The sex was evenly split, with 50% male (100) and 50% female (100). The 41% who did screen positive for an undiagnosed mental illness had a range of diagnoses. The top modules with positive results were oppositional defiant (13.5%, 27), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (13%, 25), depression (10%, 11), conduct disorder (9%, 19), and anxiety (5%, 11).

Conclusions

The pediatric Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview was effective in screening for undiagnosed mental illness in pediatric patients who presented to the ED with no psychiatric-related illness. The screening tool indicated that 41% of pediatric patients screened positive for an undiagnosed mental illness, with attention deficit–related disorders being the most widely seen. Further study should be conducted to test the tools used in a range of ED settings.

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