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Characteristics of children and youth who visit the emergency department for a behavioural disorder.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.
  • 2Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta ; Women & Children's Health Research Institute, Edmonton, Alberta.


in English, French


Relatively little is known about children who present to emergency departments (EDs) to stabilize acute emergencies related to behavioural disorders. This study describes patient and treatment characteristics of such children/youth.


We conducted a retrospective medical record review of consecutive ED presentations made by children/youth (10 to 17 years) between January 2009 and December 2011 for visits with a main discharge diagnosis of hyperkinetic disorder, mixed disorder of conduct and emotions, or conduct disorder. Socio-demographic and ED visit data were analyzed descriptively.


During the study period, 365 consecutive presentations made by 325 children/youth. The most common presenting complaints were related to depression/self-harm (45.8%) and violent behaviours (28.8%). Many children/youth had a previously diagnosed psychiatric disorder (59.4%) and identified being under the care of a child psychiatrist (42.2%). The majority of ED visits were triaged as urgent or emergent (51.5% and 41.1%, respectively) and included mood and suicidality assessments (84.7% and 80.8%, respectively). Follow-up with various services was made for all visits.


Children and youth presented to the ED for a behavioural disorder had urgent needs related to self-harm, depression and violent behaviours. These findings draw attention to the important role of the ED in managing physical safety and well-being concerns for families and recommending follow-up in the post-crisis period.


behavioural disorders; emergency department; mental health; pediatrics

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