Visits to hospital psychiatric emergency departments have climbed 20% over the last three years nationwide. More people are losing their jobs and their homes, becoming severely depressed and in need of mental health treatment. Those without a previous psychiatric history are now taxing already overburdened New Jersey emergency rooms.

Dr. Debra Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies says the state has not suffered funding cuts compared to the rest of the nation, but with a continuing economic downturn, ER’s are filling up quickly and it will remain that way in 2012.

“Its possible that more people that have mental health and addiction issues and that includes children and adults…will continue to seek out the emergency rooms if they don’t have other options.”

Wentz says uninsured patients are waiting until the need becomes so great that they have no choice but to seek treatment at a hospital, which is costing them big bucks.

“People who have lost their job and don’t have a primary care physician are turning to the ER because they are open 24 hours a day and they can get the help and treatment that they need.”

And next year could be worse, said Wentz, with people being stressed about unemployment and paying bills.

“The economy isn’t improving as rapidly as we had hoped, and 2012 could be worse because many mental health agenices are cutting programs because they simply don’t have the money. We hope that Governor Christie recognizes the need to keep the funding going to keep these services operational because without it, many patients will have no other option but to head to the ER.”