Assessing the mental health needs of British Columbian adolescents within a lifespan developmental framework

A group of teenagers on their phones sitting on school steps

Adolescence is a key developmental stage and a time when many mental health problems, that may soon become disorders, emerge. This period is also a time when transitional age youth often try psychoactive substances for the first time, presenting a unique opportunity for early detection and intervention to meaningfully impact their future health and development. Data access has been approved for a study aiming to ascertain mental health and substance use service needs at local and regional levels as well as to understand the precursors and consequences stemming from mental health and substance use (MHSU) problems in adolescence.

The study, funded by a Health Canada Substance Use and Addictions Program Grant, is being lead by Daniel Vigo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

“An ongoing challenge for schools and health systems is providing early supports and services that are not only sufficiently available but also accessible and acceptable for this age group,” says Dr. Vigo. “Many services only become accessible when disorders are evident, missing a critical window for preventative and psychoeducational services. For this reason, it is crucial to examine the usage of MHSU services to prevent, treat, and mitigate related harms as well as understand the trajectory of unmet MHSU needs into adulthood and later life.”

Adolescence/youth (12-19 years old) is the target developmental period of interest, though data from British Columbians across the lifespan (individuals born prior to January 2023) will be included in the study, as life events from various developmental stages may be related to experiences during adolescence.

The study will analyze the sociodemographic, educational, service utilization, prescription drug product use, employment, and environmental determinants of MHSU outcomes within the context of adolescent events/factors. PopData will link nine data sets from the BC Ministry of Health with data from Mental Health Services/Mental Health and Substance Use, Statistics Canada, the BC Ministry of Education and Child Care, and the Human Early Learning Partnership.

The research team believe that outputs created from this needs assessment will enable the estimation of prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of mental health and substance use disorders among adolescents in BC as well as the identification of high-risk factors associated with poor outcomes in adolescence and later life. “Discerning meaningful risk profiles based on diverse administrative data can help service users, providers, and decision-makers improve the timeliness and the precision with which they develop and deploy resources, leading to earlier intervention, higher service engagement, and improved MHSU outcomes for BC residents,” Dr. Vigo concludes.