18% more Kentucky youth (ages 5 to 19) went to hospital emergency rooms for self-harm injuries in 2021 than in 2020

Ohio Valley ReSource graph from Ky. Injury Prevention and Resource Center data; click it to enlarge.

Kentucky hospital emergency rooms are increasingly becoming the go-to destination for Kentucky youth who have mental-health problems and harm themselves.

The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Resource Center says 1,396 Kentuckians ages five to 19 visited emergency departments for self-harm injuries in 2021, up 18 percent from the 1,182 reported in 2020.

“The data also shows more Kentucky youth died by suicide compared to youth who are killed in homicides,” Corinne Boyer of WEKU-FM reports for Ohio Valley ReSource, a consortium of public radio stations in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. “Between 2010 and 2021, a total of 430 suicide deaths were reported and 302 homicides were recorded among Kentuckians ages five to 19.”

Lindsay Ragsdale, M.D.

Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale, chief medical officer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington, told Boyer that she’s seen an increase in patients seeking mental health treatment.

“Every single day, we have patients that come into our ER for evaluation for mental health crisis, and whether that’s suicidal attempts, or thoughts, some more anxiety related diagnoses [and] eating disorders,” Ragsdale said, adding that the pandemic cut off social connection for children.

“There’s a lot of fear and concern, and this has really upended a lot of kids’ lives.”

The hospital, part of the University of Kentucky, is working on a psychiatric unit that it hopes to have completed by November, Boyer reports: “But Dr. Amy Meadows, the child and adolescent psychiatry director at UK, said the demand for mental health treatment means the new unit won’t have enough beds.”

“Not only do we need more inpatient, but we also need a better system of care to help manage kids out of the hospital, keep them at home when it’s at all possible,” Meadows said, adding that means many options.

“From schools where kids are doing education about emotions and mental health, to being able to have outpatient therapy,” she said. “We need more psychologists, therapists, social workers, to having available psychiatrists in the community.”

The problem is widespread. The Children’s Hospital Association reported last fall last that self-harm injuries among children rose significantly in the first six months of 2021, with a 45% increase in the number of self-injury and suicide cases in 5-to-17-year-olds, compared to 2019.

CHA President Amy Wimpey Knight “said the numbers indicate a mental health crisis,” Boyer reports.

“Basically, if a child presents to the emergency room in a mental health crisis, that cannot safely be discharged home, they often need to be — some can — but many often need ongoing care,” Wright said. “And there’s not enough mental health beds right now and/or intensive outpatient programs.”

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