Objective — Despite the high prevalence of mental illnesses and addictions, treatment rates remain low. In April 2010, a regional mass media campaign was implemented to increase awareness of mental health services in central Toronto, Canada. We studied the impact of this campaign on rates of psychiatric emergency department (PED) visits among all hospital emergency departments (EDs) located in Toronto.
Design — Monthly PED visit totals were obtained for all Toronto EDs from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2012 (n = 148,704). The campaign’s impact on visit rates was measured using interrupted time series analysis and a difference-in-difference estimator. We conducted pre- and post-campaign analyses to examine whether volume increases were explained by specific diagnostic categories and/or new presentations (new patients with no prior PED visits), and to examine geographic trends.
Results — The campaign was associated with an increased volume of PED visits at downtown hospitals (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, an increase of 7.6 visits/month [p < 0.0001]; University Health Network, 5.8 visits/month [p < 0.0001]; St. Michael’s Hospital, 4.2 visits/month [p < 0.0001]; and Mount Sinai Hospital, 3.2 visits/month [p < 0.0001]) but not in hospitals located outside of the downtown area. Neither new patient visits nor specific diagnostic categories disproportionately accounted for the overall observed increases. Following the campaign, patients travelled greater distances to receive ED services.
Conclusions — Mass media campaigns promoting mental health and psychiatric services can affect health care-seeking behaviour and utilization. Our findings have implications for system-level service planning, which should anticipate volume increases when public mental health campaigns are being considered.
Emergency medical services