Inequalities in Access to Mental Health Treatment by Australian Youths During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Caroline X. Gao, Lachlan P. McDonald, Matthew Hamilton, Koen Simons, Jana M. Menssink, Kate Filia, Debra Rickwood, Simon Rice, Ian Hickie, Patrick D. McGorry, Sue M. Cotton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The authors aimed to evaluate changes in use of government-subsidized primary mental health services, through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), by young people during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and whether changes were associated with age, sex, socioeconomic status, and residence in particular geographical areas. METHODS: Interrupted time-series analyses were conducted by using quarterly mental health MBS service data (all young people ages 12-25 years, 2015-2020) for individual Statistical Area Level 3 areas across Australia. The data captured >22.4 million service records. Meta-analysis and meta-regression models estimated the pandemic interruption effect at the national level and delineated factors influencing these estimates. RESULTS: Compared with expected prepandemic trends, a 6.2% (95% CI=5.3%-7.2%) increase was noted for all young people in use of MBS mental health services in 2020. Substantial differences were found between age and sex subgroups, with a higher increase among females and young people ages 18-25. A decreasing trend was observed for males ages 18-25 (3.5% reduction, 95% CI=2.5%-4.5%). The interruption effect was strongly associated with socioeconomic status. Service uptake increased in areas of high socioeconomic status, with smaller or limited uptake in areas of low socioeconomic status. CONCLUSIONS: During 2020, young people's use of primary mental health services increased overall. However, increases were inequitably distributed and relatively low, compared with increases in population-level mental health burden. Policy makers should address barriers to primary care access for young people, particularly for young males and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-588
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)
Volume74
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023

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