MONDAY, Aug. 15, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Short-stay hospitalizations of children with mental illnesses surged between 1996 and 2007, while psychiatric admissions among the elderly declined in that period, according to a new study examining changing patterns in psychiatric hospitalization in the United States.
Admissions for children aged 5 to 13 surged 81 percent in that time period-- from 156 per 100,000 children in the general population each year to 283 per 100,000 children, the study found. Psychiatric admissions for teenagers aged 14 to 19 rose by nearly 42 percent.
"A substantial increase in acute care psychiatric hospitalization rates and inpatient occupancy for children and adolescents, a moderate increase in the hospitalization rate of adults, and a steep decline for elderly individuals represent significant developments in mental health treatment in the United States with potentially strong ramifications for quality of care and service financing," wrote report author Joseph C. Blader, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York.
"The fact that this recent rise occurred despite pressures toward minimizing hospitalizations for psychiatric illness suggests that rising hospitalization rates for youth more likely correspond to clinical need rather than overuse," Blader said in a university news release.
For teenagers, the rate of acute psychiatric admissions was nearing the rate for adults by 2007, the study said.
Admissions for adults aged 20 to 64 increased by 8 percent, the study found, but acute psychiatric hospitalization for people aged 65 or older fell by 17.5 percent.
The researchers also noted more admissions for bipolar disorder and fewer primary diagnoses of anxiety disorder.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics, a program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on short-stay (fewer than 30 days on average) hospitalization trends for psychiatric patients.
During the study period, private insurance reimbursements declined, but coverage from government sources rose, the study authors said.
Also, while short hospital stays increased for psychiatric conditions, long-term psychiatric hospitalization decreased from 1970 through the 1990s.
The study, published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, will appear in the journal's December print edition.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health provides more information on child and adolescent mental health.