In a recent Data Dive, we looked at what the Colorado All Payer Claims Database (CO APCD) tells us about treatment for people with mental health needs. Across all Coloradans, we found positive trends in access to mental health services and quality of care. But children generally face a unique set of challenges related to receiving mental health services, and being able to access care is crucial to ensuring children are healthy overall and achieve important social and emotional development milestones. When we look at the data in the CO APCD specifically for children, we see the improvements in mental health care for Coloradans are holding true in pediatric care as well.

More Mental Health Claims Among Children

According to the CO APCD Insights Dashboard, behavioral health care claims – which account for all behavioral health concerns, including mental health issues, health behaviors, and substance abuse conditions – have risen consistently since 2013.

Specific to children, a previous analysis of mental health emergency department (ED) claims in the CO APCD shows that ED visits for children with mental health needs have remained high. Mental health emergencies significantly impacted children, with over 4,000 children visiting the ED for a mental health crisis in 2018. The analysis shows that between 2016 and 2018, 25%, or one in every four mental health-related visits to the ED were for children under the age of 18.

Most mental health-related ED visits among children were for a major depressive disorder with nearly 2,000 visits in 2018, followed by anxiety disorders with over 700 visits.

Quality of Care Among Child Patients

If a person visits the ED for mental health concerns, it is recommended that they receive a follow-up with a mental health provider as quickly as possible for the best possible outcomes. Data in the Community Dashboard shows that follow-up for children who went to the ED for a mental health condition has steadily improved from 2013 to 2019. Overall, the percentage of children (ages 6-17) who received a follow-up within 7 days after visiting the ED for a mental health reason increased by 83%. Additionally, the number of those receiving a follow-up within 30 days increased by 78%.

These improvements parallel increases seen in the Community Dashboard for mental health visit follow-up overall. The data shows that for all patients across the state, including both children and adults, follow-up within 7 days improved by 51% and by 41% within 30 days in the same time period.

As a state, the data shows we are making some progress towards improving the quality of care for people affected by mental health issues. However, we have opportunities to reduce the number of people, including children, who are utilizing the ED as a source of care for mental health. Ideally, children and adults alike will receive mental health care services outside of a hospital or ED that would prevent them from needing higher levels of care.

This data dive provides a glimpse into one small aspect of mental health services in the state.  Many efforts are underway, including the new Behavioral Health Administration recently signed into law,  which takes additional steps to improve mental health services for all Coloradans. CIVHC looks forward to continuing to track the state’s progress.