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New and continuing physician-based outpatient mental healthcare among children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada: a population-based study


Objective — To assess physician-based mental healthcare utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic among children and adolescents new to care and those already engaged with mental health services, and to evaluate differences by sociodemographic factors.

Study Design — We performed a population-based repeated cross-sectional study using linked health and administrative databases in Ontario, Canada among all children and adolescents 3–17 years. We examined outpatient visit rates per 1,000 population for mental health concerns for those new to care (no physician-based mental healthcare for ≥1 year) and those with continuing care needs (any physician-based mental healthcare <1 year) following onset of the pandemic.

Results — Among ~2.5 million children and adolescents (48.7% female, mean age 10.1 ± 4.3 years), expected monthly mental health outpatient visits were 1.5/1,000 for those new to mental healthcare and 5.4/1,000 for those already engaged in care. Following onset of the pandemic, visit rates for both groups were above expected [adjusted rate ratio (aRR) 1.22, 95% CI 1.17, 1.27; aRR 1.10, 95% CI 1.07, 1.12] for new and continuing care, respectively. The greatest increase above expected was among females (new: aRR 1.33, 95% CI 1.25, 1.42; continuing: aRR 1.22 95% CI 1.17, 1.26) and adolescents ages 13–17 years (new: aRR 1.31, 95% CI 1.27, 1.34; continuing: aRR 1.15 95% CI 1.13, 1.17). Mood and anxiety concerns were prominent among those new to care.

Conclusion — In the 18 months following onset of the pandemic, outpatient mental healthcare utilization increased for those with new and continuing care needs, especially among females and adolescents.



Toulany A, Vigod S, Kurdyak P, Stukel TA, Strauss R, Fu L, Guttmann A, Guan J, Cohen E, Chiu M, Hepburn CM, Moran K, Gardner W, Cappelli M, Sundar P, Saunders N. Front Psychiatry. 2023; 14:1063203. Epub 2023 Nov 6.

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