Objective — A substantial evidence base in the peer-reviewed literature exists investigating mental illness in the military, but relatively less is documented about mental illness in veterans. This study uses provincial, administrative data to study the use of mental health services by Canadian veterans in Ontario.
Method — This was a retrospective cohort study of Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police veterans who were released between 1990 and 2013 and resided in Ontario. Mental health-related primary care physician, psychiatrist, emergency department (ED) visits, and psychiatric hospitalisations were counted. Repeated measures were presented in 5-year intervals, stratified by age at release.
Results — The cohort included 23,818 veterans. In the first 5 years following entry into the health care system, 28.9% of veterans had ≥1 mental health-related primary care physician visit, 5.8% visited a psychiatrist at least once, and 2.4% received acute mental health services at an ED. The use of mental health services was consistent over time. Almost 8% of veterans aged 30 to 39 years saw a psychiatrist in the first 5 years after release, compared to 3.5% of veterans aged ≥50 years at release. The youngest veterans at release (<30 years) were the most frequent users of ED services for a mental health-related reason (5.1% had at least 1 ED visit).
Conclusion — Understanding how veterans use the health care system for mental health problems is an important step to ensuring needs are met during the transition to civilian life.
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