Emergency Department Use and Inpatient Admissions and Costs Among Adolescents With Deliberate Self-Harm: A Five-Year Follow-Up Study

Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Dwena Phillips, Paul Brown, Paul Gruenewald, Magdalena Cerdá, Deborah Wiebe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Self-harm rates among U.S. adolescents have risen substantially. Health and social outcomes among contemporary self-harming youths are infrequently tracked and poorly understood. This study investigated long-term health service utilization (emergency department [ED] visits and inpatient admissions) and inpatient costs among a recent cohort of adolescents with deliberate self-harm. METHODS: This retrospective cohort study used statewide, all-payer, longitudinally linked discharge data from California. All residents ages 10-19 presenting to EDs in 2010 with deliberate self-harm (N=5,396) were compared with two control groups: a random sample of adolescent ED patients with other complaints, matched on sex, age, residential zip code, and month of index visit (general control patients, N=14,921), and matched ED patients with psychiatric complaints but no self-harm (psychiatric control patients, N=15,835). Outcomes included 5-year rates of ED visits, inpatient admissions, and inpatient costs, overall and for psychiatric and nonpsychiatric complaints separately. RESULTS: Self-harm patients' ED use, inpatient admissions, and inpatient costs were significantly higher than those of general control patients (by 39%, 81%, and 21%, respectively), when the analysis controlled for confounding demographic and utilization characteristics. Associations mostly persisted, although smaller in magnitude, in comparisons between self-harm and psychiatric control patients. Psychiatric and nonpsychiatric complaints contributed to self-harming adolescents' excess health service utilization and costs. CONCLUSIONS: Deliberate self-harm among adolescents was found to be associated with long-lasting and costly patterns of health service utilization, often but not exclusively for psychiatric complaints. Future research should investigate the pathways underlying these associations and incorporate service utilization as a key patient outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-143
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents/adolescence
  • Suicide and self-destructive behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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