Canadian youths seeking help for mental health problems and addictions has been steadily increasing over the last several years, with the biggest growth being felt in hospital emergency departments (ED), according to a new study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
“Overall, we found a one-third rise in ED visits over six years for children and youth presenting with mental health and addictions problems, with anxiety being the most common driver of need,” says senior author Dr. Paul Kurdyak, director of health systems research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“However, this growth was not limited to emergency care. We also saw a significant increase in hospitalizations and in office-based services, particularly by family doctors, for child and youth mental health.”
For the study, the researchers looked at anonymized patient records for all Ontario children and youth aged 10 to 24 years from 2006 to 2011. They identified mental health and addiction-related outpatient visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations, examining the results by physician specialty and diagnostic categories.
They found that mental health-related ED visits increased by 32.5 percent and that hospitalizations increased by 53.7 percent.
They also found that anxiety disorders were the most common reason for ED visits, and these accounted for 47 percent of the total increase in mental health-related ED visits. Office-based physician visits also increased by 15.8 percent with family doctors accounting for the majority of these visits at 28.7 per 1,000 people.
The researchers say that further investigation is needed to fully understand how a lack of access to outpatient care may be driving this growth in ED visits.
“If a family has trouble getting mental health or addictions care for their children in a community-based setting such as a family doctor’s office or specialty clinic, they likely have no other option but to head to their local emergency department when they need care,” said Kurdyak, who sees this need firsthand as an emergency department psychiatrist at CAMH.
“Some of the ED visits we observed were likely unavoidable mental health emergencies, but the overall increase in ED visits likely reflects a problem with access to care in community settings.”
“We hope that by quantifying this growth and looking for patterns, our research will provide health planners with the evidence they need to better coordinate child and youth mental health care across Ontario, so that kids can get the care they need when and where they need it,” he said.