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New Jersey youth seeking hospital care for mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders still exceed pre-pandemic levels, according to a new data set from New Jersey Hospital Association.

The increase, first identified in 2020 emergency department data, continued in the NJHA analysis of hospital visits in 2021. New NJHA analysis Center for Medical Analytics, Research and Transformationor CHART, for the first time includes data on inpatient hospitals, showing that the degree of mental illness among this age group leads to an increase in hospital admissions.

“We are seeing the lasting impact of the pandemic years on the demand for mental health services,” said NJHA CEO and President Kathy Bennett. “The emergency department is very often the first point of contact for young people in critical mental health situations, but now we are seeing this path continue to inpatient care in our hospitals. This is an important early indication of the need to improve access to mental health services for New Jersey youth.”

Need help?

Recognizing the challenges this presents for many New Jersey families, the NJHA has produced a checklist for parents of children with mental health issues. A resource called “What Should I Do?” is designed to make it easier for parents to seek help by defining various options for mental health care, questions to ask, and links to services. It is available online at njha.com/what-should-I-do and a printable PDF for families to save as a resource.

The NJHA analysis looked at data on hospital visits for both emergency room visits and hospital admissions aged 12 to 17 over a five-year period spanning 2017 to 2021. available data for 2021. While some emergency department data has stabilized — albeit at elevated levels — from 2020 to 2021, admissions continued to rise in 2021 in four areas:

  • Among the four conditions studied, depression was the most common diagnosis among individuals aged 12 to 17 in both emergency departments and inpatient settings. The proportion of hospitalizations related to depression increased by 25%, from 244 per 1,000 in 2019 to 304 per 1,000 in 2021.
  • The proportion of self-harm cases resulting in hospital admissions between the ages of 12 and 17 jumped by 95% from 2019 (288 per 1,000) to 2021 (596 per 1,000).
  • Hospital admissions of young people aged 12 to 17 diagnosed with anxiety increased by 54% from 2019 (169 per 1,000) to 2021 (260 per 1,000).
  • The proportion of hospitalizations related to eating disorders was about 2.5 times higher in 2021 (50.3 per 1,000 people) compared to 2019 (19.7 per 1,000 people). This condition disproportionately affects women; in 2021, approximately 78 out of every 1,000 hospitalizations among adolescent girls diagnosed with an eating disorder compared to nine out of every 1,000 men.

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