This retrospective clinical audit compared changes in community mental health service utilization before and during an economic recession in an oil sands region in Canada which was characterized by a doubling of unemployment rates and poor economic outlook.
Sociodemographic descriptors, psychiatric antecedents, clinical characteristics and follow-up care were compared before and during the recession for newly assessed patients in community mental health clinics located across a Northern Alberta oil mining region. Data were collected retrospectively as part of a clinical audit process and then analysed with descriptive statistics, cross-tabular univariate analyses with chi-square tests using SPSS version 20.
A total of 1,465 patients were included. Sociodemographic factors disproportionately elevated during the recession included male sex, Caucasian ethnicity, own home ownership, higher levels of education and unemployment. More patients seeking mental health care were already taking psychotropic medications (e.g. antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and stimulants). At the same time, disproportionately fewer patients engaged in substance abuse or had a prior formal history of mental health problems. The referral reasons during recession were less likely to be associated with substance abuse or mood concerns and more likely for 'other' reasons. The patients seeking psychiatric help during a recession were disproportionately likely to be diagnosed with personality disorders and 'other' less common diagnostic categories and less likely to suffer from mood or trauma-related diagnoses. Referrals for counselling and social services were also disproportionately more common during the recession.
This study provides a comprehensive description of longitudinal patterns of mental health service utilization before and during a recession. The findings provide important evidence for policy and planning decisions to encourage resource allocation to help promote accessibility of the most needed community mental health resources.