Objective: To describe the use of mental health and substance abuse services by children and adolescents as reported from the four community sites included in the NIMH Methods for the Epidemiology of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders (MECA) Study.
Method: As part of the MECA survey, questions were developed to identify children and adolescents utilizing mental health and substance abuse services. Youths aged 9 through 17 years and a parent/ caretaker were interviewed. Because the investigators had concerns about the capacities of the younger children in the study to describe their use of mental health services, more extensive questions were asked of parents than of youths.
Results: The procedures developed by the MECA project identified patterns of service use that varied in the four communities surveyed. Agreement between reports of parents and youths regarding the use of mental health and substance abuse services showed substantial inconsistencies, similar to reports of psychiatric disorders. At three of the four sites, the majority of children meeting criteria for a psychiatric disorder and scoring 60 or less on the Children's Global Assessment Scale reported some mental health-related service in the previous year, although at two of the sites fewer than 25% of these youths were seen in the mental health specialty sector.
Conclusion: Community surveys show great promise for monitoring the need for mental health and substance abuse services and for identifying patterns of use.