Mental Health Conditions Among Hospitalized Children

Statement of Problem

Over the past decade, the prevalence of mental health diagnoses has been rising among children seeking short-term medical care for a serious condition. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD and depression, are also common in children hospitalized for medical or surgical conditions; at least one in 10 U.S. pediatric medical or surgical hospitalizations involve a patient with a mental health condition. Despite increasing recognition that mental health conditions are common among hospitalized children, hospital systems report challenges ensuring adequate mental health resources for their patients with these conditions. Understanding the need for mental health resources and ensuring those resources are available for hospitalized children is critical to improving physical and mental health outcomes and the value of pediatric hospital care.


PolicyLab researcher Dr. Stephanie Doupnik is working to better understand the relationship between hospitalization and mental health conditions in children. One aspect of this work includes determining an accurate prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities among hospitalized children by using both family reports and clinician documentation.

Furthermore, in a study recently published in Pediatrics, Dr. Doupnik and colleagues investigated 670,000 hospitalizations from 2012 to measure the impact that comorbid mental health conditions have on hospital resource utilization. Findings include:

  • Existing mental health conditions were present in one in seven medical and surgical hospitalizations of children aged 3 to 20 years.
  • For nine types of surgical procedures, such as appendectomy and gall bladder removal, having one mental health condition increased 61 percent of children’s hospital stays by one day. Having two or more mental health conditions added one day in the hospital for every child in this population.
  • For nine types of medical hospitalizations, such as chemotherapy and diabetes, having one mental health condition added an extra hospital day for 28 percent of children. Having two or more health conditions added a hospital day for 50 percent of children in this population.
  • These increases totaled nearly 32,000 additional hospital days nationwide in 2012, costing an additional $90 million. 

Next Steps

Much work remains in order to promote optimal mental health for children, particularly during times of stress like hospitalization. Currently, Dr. Doupnik is conducting research to investigate how mental health conditions influence various aspects of hospital care, like post-discharge aftercare and readmissions, with the goal of identifying opportunities to provide interventions that can improve hospital care for children with mental health conditions. Dr. Doupnik’s research findings suggest that children requiring short-term medical care for serious medical hospitalizations would benefit from efforts by hospital administrators and healthcare policymakers to improve availability, efficiency, and convenience of access to mental health services.

Suggested Citation

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Mental Health Conditions Among Hospitalized Children [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here].