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Use of mental health services by children and youth in Ontario military families compared with the general population: a retrospective cohort study

Mahar AL, Cramm H, Zhang L, Aiken AB, Chen S, Ouellette B, Manser L, Kurdyak P. CMAJ Open. 2022; 10(1):E119-25. Epub 2022 Feb 15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.9778/cmajo.20200312


Background — In Canada, more than 64 000 children are growing up with 1 or both parents in the military. We compared mental health service use by children and youth in military families versus the general population, to understand potential mental health service gaps.

Methods — This was a matched retrospective cohort study of children and youth (aged < 20 yr) of members of the Canadian Armed Forces posted to Ontario between Apr. 1, 2008, and Mar. 31, 2013, with follow-up to Mar. 31, 2017, using provincial administrative health data at ICES. We created a comparison group of children and youth in the general population, matched 4:1 by age, sex and geography. We compared the use and frequency of mental health–related physician visits, emergency department visits and hospital admissions, and the time to first service use, using regression models.

Results — This study included 5478 children and youth in military families and a matched cohort of 21 912 children and youth in the general population. For visits and admissions for mental health reasons, children and youth in military families were more likely to see a family physician (adjusted relative risk [RR] 1.25, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.17 to 1.34), less likely to see a pediatrician (adjusted RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.96), equally likely to see a psychiatrist, and as likely to visit an emergency department or be admitted to hospital as the matched cohort. Children and youth in military families had the same frequency of use of outpatient mental health services. The time to first visit for mental health reasons was shorter to see a family physician (adjusted days difference [DD] −57, 95% CI −80 to −33) and longer to see a psychiatrist (adjusted DD 103, 95% CI 43 to 163) for children and youth in military families.

Interpretation — Children and youth in military families use mental health services differently from those in the general population. Provincial policies aimed at increasing access to mental health specialists for children and youth in military families, alongside targeted federal services and programming through military organizations, are needed.

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