Mental health burden 'unsustainable' at North Carolina hospitals

Emergency department data from hospitals across North Carolina indicate an elevated rate of pediatric patients needing psychiatric care, according to an Aug. 22 report in North Carolina Health News.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health has seen a 65 percent increase in emergency department patients needing psychiatric care, and that demand tripled for pediatric patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, according to the report, many pediatric patients have extended stays in the emergency department when a county social services department is involved. 

Atrium Health Behavioral Health Services Medical Director Wayne Sparks, MD, said that these patient numbers have been sustained for the past five months. 

"We've seen since the beginning of 2022 that our numbers have just stayed high consistently and that’s not typical," said Dr. Sparks. 

According to the CDC, young people across the U.S. have experienced higher levels of depression. Forty-four percent of U.S. high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2021. 

The word "unsustainable" was often echoed by hospital officials statewide in the report, as they described the record numbers of mental health patients they saw. North Carolina ranks 44th nationally in access to mental health care and 45th overall for pediatric mental health care, according to recent data from Virginia-based nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America.

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