Mental Illness Hospitalizations of Youth in Washington State

Overall hospitalization rates for youth decreased during the past two decades as a result, in part, of a shift from inpatient to outpatient management of many conditions. To determine whether the rate of youth hospitalizations for mental illness differed from overall hospitalization rates researchers examined data from the Washington State Comprehensive Hospital Abstract Reporting System for all school-aged children (5 to 14 years) and adolescents (15 to 19 years) hospitalized in Washington State between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1999.

Key Findings:

  • The rate of school-aged children hospitalized for mental illness increased from 11.0 per 10,000 in 1990 to 13.4 per 10,000 in 1999.
  • The proportion of school-aged mental illness hospitalizations increased from 7.8 percent of all school-aged hospitalizations in 1990 to 12.8 percent in 1999.
  • While the rate of adolescent hospitalizations for mental illness changed little over the decade (36.2 per 10,000 in 1999), mental illness hospitalizations as a proportion of total adolescent hospitalizations increased from 14.5 percent in 1990 to 21.5 percent in 1999.
  • Depressive disorders accounted for 32 percent of mental illness admissions among school-aged children and 56 percent among adolescents.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder accounted for another 38 percent of school-aged admissions.

By the late 90s, mental illness had surpassed injuries—the leading cause of hospitalization in 1990—as a leading cause of hospital admission in both age groups. The authors note that improved access to outpatient mental health treatment may reduce youth hospitalization rates for mental illness.