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Re-accessing mental health care after age 18: a longitudinal cohort study of youth involved with community-based child and youth mental health agencies in Ontario

Schraeder KE, Barwick M, Cairney J, Carter J, Kurdyak P, Neufeld RWJ, Stewart SL, St Pierre J, Tobon J, Vingilis E, Zaric G, Reid GJ. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2021; 30(1):12-24. Epub 2021 Feb 1.


Objective — About 20-26% of children and youth with a mental health disorder (depending on age and respondent) report receiving services from a community-based Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH) agency. However, because agencies have an upper age limit of 18-years old, youth requiring ongoing mental health services must "transition" to adult-oriented care. General healthcare providers (e.g., family physicians) likely provide this care. The objective of this study was to compare the likelihood of receiving physician-based mental health services after age 18 between youth who had received community-based mental health services and a matched population sample.

Method — A longitudinal matched cohort study was conducted in Ontario, Canada. A CYMH cohort that received mental health care at one of five CYMH agencies, aged 7-14 years at their first visit (N=2,822), was compared to age, sex, region-matched controls (N=8,466).

Results — CYMH youth were twice as likely as the comparison sample to have a physician-based mental health visit (i.e., by a family physician, pediatrician, psychiatrists) after age 18; median time to first visit was 3.3 years. Having a physician mental health visit before age 18 was associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing the outcome than community-based CYMH services alone.

Conclusion — Most youth involved in community-based CYMH agencies will re-access services from physicians as adults. Youth receiving mental health services only within community agencies, and not from physicians, may be less likely to receive physician-based mental health services as adults. Collaboration between CYMH agencies and family physicians may be important for youth who require ongoing care into adulthood.

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