Inequalities in Access to Mental Health Treatment by Australian Youths During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Caroline X. Gao, Lachlan P. McDonald, Matthew P. Hamilton, Koen Simons, Jana M. Menssink, Kate Filia, Debra Rickwood, Simon Rice, Ian Hickie, Patrick D. McGorry, Sue M. Cotton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The authors aimed to evaluate changes in use of government-subsidized primary mental health services, through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), by young people during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and whether changes were associated with age, sex, socioeconomic status, and residence in particular geographical areas. METHODS: Interrupted time-series analyses were conducted by using quarterly mental health MBS service data (all young people ages 12-25 years, 2015-2020) for individual Statistical Area Level 3 areas across Australia. The data captured >22.4 million service records. Meta-analysis and meta-regression models estimated the pandemic interruption effect at the national level and delineated factors influencing these estimates. RESULTS: Compared with expected prepandemic trends, a 6.2% (95% CI=5.3%-7.2%) increase was noted for all young people in use of MBS mental health services in 2020. Substantial differences were found between age and sex subgroups, with a higher increase among females and young people ages 18-25. A decreasing trend was observed for males ages 18-25 (3.5% reduction, 95% CI=2.5%-4.5%). The interruption effect was strongly associated with socioeconomic status. Service uptake increased in areas of high socioeconomic status, with smaller or limited uptake in areas of low socioeconomic status. CONCLUSIONS: During 2020, young people's use of primary mental health services increased overall. However, increases were inequitably distributed and relatively low, compared with increases in population-level mental health burden. Policy makers should address barriers to primary care access for young people, particularly for young males and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-588
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatric Services
Volume74
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Community mental health services
  • COVID-19
  • Help-seeking
  • Mental health
  • Primary care
  • Self-help

Cite this