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CDC reports a surge in kids visiting the ER for mental health issues

(FILE Photo

SALT LAKE CITY – A new report from the Centers for Disease Control says there’s been a spike in the number of kids going to the ER for mental health issues. Many hospitals in Utah say they’re not seeing the same surge, but they’re still worried. 

The CDC report showed a 31% increase in mental health visits to the ER nationally among children ages 12-17 since the COVID-19 pandemic started. There is a 24% jump for those ages 5-11. 

Primary Children’s Hospital Crisis Services Manager Robert Loftus says typically during the school year, they will see 150-200 kids a month treated for a mental health issue. 

“Normally, it is some combination of feeling suicidal or having acted upon suicidal feelings. We also see patients who are on the autism spectrum…their mood is dysregulated,” Loftus says. 

Loftus says the number of those types of emergency room visits actually went down earlier this year. 

Although the numbers are back to normal, there is still a lot of concern.

“Since about June, the numbers of crisis evaluations has increased back to the normal rate. So, the proportion of visits that show up for behavioral health concerns are actually greater than the proportion before the pandemic,” Loftus says. 

That means little Johnny or Susie may not be breaking their leg falling off a bike as often, but are more likely to end up in the ER with a mental health issue. 

The MountainStar hospital system says they also are not seeing a major surge in these types of ER visits.

Loftus says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on kids’s mental health, which is why he encourages parents to keep an open line of communication with their children and learn to spot the signs of a problem like increased isolation or drug abuse.   

“Try and help them develop coping skills and resilience,” Loftus says. “I think if people are seeing an increase in depression symptoms in their children, they can look for counseling and other avenues to help them.”    


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