Many more young Canadians using health services for mental disorders

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May 7, 2015—The rate of hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits by children and youth in Canada for mental disorders has increased substantially since 2006–2007.

Care for Children and Youth With Mental Disorders, a new study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), shows that rates (defined as the number of patients per 100,000 population) of ED visits for mental disorders among children and youth (age 5 to 24) increased by 45% from 2006–2007 to 2013–2014. Similarly, rates of inpatient hospitalizations that involved at least 1 overnight stay increased by 37% for Canadian children and youth over the same time period.

Although the use of hospital services is increasing, there is no evidence to suggest that the prevalence of mental disorders in this age group has grown.

“The rising rates of hospital visits by young Canadians for mental disorders could be due to a number of factors,” said Jeremy Veillard, CIHI’s vice president of Research and Analysis. “We may be seeing more patients in the hospital because the stigma around mental disorders is decreasing, and young people are more willing to seek help. The question for the health system is whether those services are best provided in hospitals, or whether young people could be more effectively treated in primary care or community-based settings.”

Rate increases largest for youth age 10 to 17

CIHI’s study broke down the use of these hospital services across age groups (from age 5 to 24) and found that since 2006–2007, youth age 15 to 17 have had the largest volumes of ED visits and hospitalizations. Additionally, this age group has experienced a significant increase in rates of hospital service use since 2006–2007, with ED visit rates up 53% and inpatient rates up 74%.

Although 10- to 14-year-olds made up a significantly smaller proportion of patients, this age group also experienced a large increase in hospital service use. The study found that their rate of ED visits increased by 68%, and inpatient hospitalization rates rose by 64%.

1 in 12 youth received medication for mental disorder

In addition, 1 in 12 youths age 15 to 24 from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia were dispensed a mood/anxiety or antipsychotic medication in 2013–2014. This rate has also increased substantially, primarily among youth living in urban or suburban areas who were dispensed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and quetiapine, the most commonly prescribed antipsychotic drug. Further examination of medication dosages found that quetiapine was often dispensed in doses low enough to indicate treatment of conditions other than schizophrenia or bipolar disorders (e.g., as a sleep aid, as a treatment for symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder).

Related Mental Health Commission of Canada report

Working together to change the system! The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Council has created a youth version of Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada. The MHCC’s Youth Council adapted the strategy to reflect a youth perspective. Council members drew on personal experiences to make sense of a large policy document and turn it into something original and more accessible. The Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Youth Perspective can be downloaded from www.mentalhealthcommission.ca.

Use CIHI's accessibility request form to request CIHI documentation in an accessible format.