Factors associated with mental health service use during the pandemic: Initiation and barriers

Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2024 Feb;70(1):59-69. doi: 10.1177/00207640231194489. Epub 2023 Aug 30.


Background: Scarce are the studies focusing on initiation of new mental health service use (MHSU) and distinguishing individuals who have sought services but have been unsuccessful in accessing these.

Aims: Assessing the factors associated with initiating new MHSU as compared to no MHSU due to self-reported no need, no MHSU due to health system and personal barriers and MHSU using resources already in place.

Methods: The sample included participants (n = 16,435) in the five established regional cohorts of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow's Health (CanPath) who responded to the CanPath COVID-19 health surveys (May-December 2020 and January-June 2021). Multinomial regression analyses were carried out to study MHSU since the pandemic (March 2020) as a function of predisposing, enabling and need factors. Analyses were carried out in the overall sample and restricted to those with moderate and severe symptoms (MSS) of depression and/or anxiety (n = 2,237).

Results: In individuals with MSS of depression and/or anxiety, 14.4% reported initiating new MHSU, 22.0% had no MHSU due to barriers and personal reasons and 36.7% had no MHSU due to self-reported no need. Age, living alone, lower income, a decrease in income during the pandemic and health professional status were associated with MHSU. Younger adults were more likely to initiate MHSU during the pandemic than older adults who reported not being comfortable to seek mental health care or self-reported no need. Individuals living alone and with lower income were more likely to report not being able to find an appointment for mental health care.

Conclusions: Awareness campaigns focusing on older adults that explain the importance of seeking treatment is needed, as well as sensitising health professionals as to the importance of informing and aiding individuals at risk of social isolation and lower socio-economic status as to available mental health resources and facilitating access to care.

Keywords: Barriers; anxiety; depression; inequities; initiating new use of services; mental health service use.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Pandemics*