Background — Mental illness is widely perceived to be more of a public health concern now than in the past; however, it is unclear whether this perception is due to an increase in the prevalence of mental illness, an increase in help-seeking behaviours or both. We examined temporal trends in use of mental health services as well as objectively measured and perceived mental health.
Methods — We conducted a repeat cross-sectional study of Ontario residents who participated in Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey (2002–2014). We assessed temporal trends in objectively measured past-year major depressive episode (based on criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, and International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision) and past-month psychological distress (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale–6 score ≥ 8) and perceived, self-rated mental health. We also examined use of mental health services, including service use among those with a need for mental health care.
Results — A total of 260 090 survey participants were included. The age- and sex-standardized prevalence of a major depressive episode (4.8%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.2%–5.3% in 2002 v. 4.9%, 95% CI 4.2%–5.7% in 2012; p = 0.9) and psychological distress (7.0%, 95% CI 6.3%–7.6% in 2002 v. 6.5%, 95% CI 5.7%–7.5% in 2012; p = 0.4) did not change significantly over time. However, self-rated fair or poor mental health status increased from 4.9% in 2003–2005 to 6.5% in 2011–2014 (ptrend < 0.001), as did the use of mental health services (7.2% to 12.8%, ptrend < 0.001). The percentage of individuals who had subjective or objectively measured mental health problems and did not access mental health services decreased significantly over time.
Interpretation — Given the stable prevalence of objectively measured psychiatric symptoms, the increase in use of mental health services appears to be, at least partly, explained by an increase in perceived poor mental health and help-seeking behaviours.
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