This article is freely available to all


Article Abstract

Objective: To describe trends in anxiety-related mental health visits to U.S. emergency departments, an expanding portal of access for mental health care.

Method: Data from 1992 through 2001 were obtained from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey using mental health-related ICD-9-CM, E- and V-codes as well as National Center for Health Statistics--assigned Patient Reason-for-Visit classification codes. Population-weighted anxiety-related emergency department visit rates were analyzed over time by age, gender, race, Hispanic ethnicity, insurance status, urban status, region of the country, urgency of presentation, and use of medication.

Results: There were 53 million mental health-related visits, increasing from 4.9% to 6.3% of all emergency department visits (p = .003) and from 17.1 to 23.6 per 1000 U.S. population across the decade (p = .000). Anxiety-related visits were common (16% of all mental health visits) and increased significantly from 3.5 to 5.0 visits per 1000 U.S. population over the decade (p = .011). Anxiety-related visits increased significantly among non-Hispanic whites, children (< 15 years), adults younger than 49 years, and the privately insured; changes among Medicare, Medicaid, and self-pay patients were not significant. Overall hospitalization rates declined from 23% to 21% between 1992 and 2001 (p = .037), but they did not change significantly for anxiety-related visits (8%), which remained the least likely visit type to be admitted of all mental health visits for the entire decade. In contrast to rural emergency departments, urban emergency departments witnessed significant increases in anxiety-related visits, rising from 2.9 to 5.2 per 1000 U.S. population across the decade (p trend = 0.007). Regionally, anxiety-related visits were highest in the Northeast, lowest in the West, and increased significantly in only the South and Northeast.

Conclusion: During the decade, there was an expansion of anxiety-related visits to U.S. emergency departments, reflecting an increase in anxiety-related emergency department care-seeking, an increase in anxiety awareness among patients and practitioners, or both.