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Abstract Background Reports on longitudinal trends in mental health-related (MHR) emergency department (ED) utilization spanning the pre- and post-pandemic periods are lacking, along with evidence comparing healthcare services utilization by sociodemographic subgroups. The aim of this study was to evaluate COVID-19-associated changes in MHR ED utilization among youth overall and by age, sex, and socio-economic status (SES). Methods This retrospective cross-sectional study analyzed MHR ED utilization before and during the COVID-19 pandemic at a large urban pediatric tertiary care hospital in Montréal, Canada. All ED visits for children (5–11 years) and adolescents (12–17 years) between April 1, 2016 and November 30, 2021 were included. The main outcome was the monthly count of MHR ED visits. Pre-pandemic and pandemic periods were compared using an interrupted time series design. The effect of seasonality (in months), age (in years), sex (male or female), and SES (low, average, high) were compared using a generalized additive model. Results There were a total of 437,147 ED visits (204,215 unique patients) during the 5-year study period of which 9748 (5.8%) were MHR visits (7,686 unique patients). We observed an increase of 69% (95% CI, + 53% to  + 85%; p = 0.001) in the mean monthly count of MHR ED visits during the pandemic period, which remained significant after adjusting for seasonality (44% increase, 95% CI, + 38% to  + 51%; p = 0.001). The chance of presenting for a MHR ED visit increased non-linearly with age. There were increased odds of presenting for a MHR ED visit among girls between the pre-pandemic and pandemic periods (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.29–1.56). No difference by SES group during and before the COVID-19 pandemic was found [OR 1.01, 95% CI 0.89–1.15 (low); OR 1.09, 95% CI 0.96–1.25 (high)]. Conclusions Our study shows important increases in MHR ED utilization among youth, and especially among girls, during the first 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the need for sustained, targeted and scalable mental health resources to support youth mental health during the current and future crises.

Original publication




Journal article


Annals of General Psychiatry


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication Date