Encounters for Suicidal Ideation in ED Down During 'Stay at Home'

Findings seen in large multicenter system; percentage of alcohol complaints higher among behavioral health visits

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MONDAY, June 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Suicide ideation (SI) complaints to the emergency department decreased during the "stay at home" order for COVID-19, while the percentage of alcohol use presentations increased, according to a research letter published online June 1 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Courtney M. Smalley, M.D., from the Cleveland Clinic Health System, and colleagues conducted a retrospective multicenter study in 20 emergency departments to examine the impact of "stay at home" orders on psychiatric visits. Due to COVID-19, "stay at home" orders were initiated on March 24, 2020; data on behavioral health (BH) visits were obtained for one month after these orders (March 25 to April 24, 2020).

The researchers found that from 2019 to 2020, there was a 44.4 and 28.0 percent decrease in emergency department visits overall and in BH visits, respectively. SI encounters decreased by 60.6 percent from 2019 to 2020; these encounters decreased as a percentage of all emergency department encounters (2.03 to 1.44 percent). When examining the percentage of overall BH encounters within the system, SI encounters decreased from 33.28 to 18.21 percent from 2019 to 2020. During the study period, there was a decrease in the total number of alcohol-related complaints, but as a percentage of total BH emergency department visits, alcohol-related complaints increased from 28.2 to 33.5 percent.

"Further studies are needed to examine factors that may have led to decreased SI and increased alcohol complaints in emergency departments and whether this short-term phenomenon will be sustained or lead to an uptick in the aftermath," the authors write. "Strategies are needed to proactively manage risk in vulnerable populations and assure adequate access."

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