Longitudinal Patterns of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Need and Care in a National Sample of U.S. Adults

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 57, no. 1, Jan. 2006, p. 93-99

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by Susan Stockdale, Ruth Klap, Thomas R. Belin, Lily Zhang, Kenneth B. Wells

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OBJECTIVE: Use of longitudinal data can help clarify the extent of persistent need for services or persistent problems in gaining access to services. This study examined the level of transient and persistent need and unmet need over time among respondents to a national survey and whether need was met by provision of mental health services or resolved without treatment. METHODS: Data from the longitudinal Health Care for Communities (HCC) household telephone survey were used to produce joint distributions of need status and care for two periods (wave 1 data collected in 1997 to 1998 and wave 2 data collected in 2000 to 2001; N=6,659). Perceived need was measured as self-report of need for help with a mental or substance use problem. Probable clinical need was assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, and the 12-item Short Form Health Survey. RESULTS: High levels of persistent unmet need for care (44 to 52 percent) were found among respondents who had probable clinical need in wave 1. Although a majority of those with need received some care, an equal proportion (about 30 percent) of those with perceived need only or probable clinical need in wave 1 did not receive any care. A substantial portion of need (22 to 26 percent) appears to have resolved without treatment, which may suggest high levels of transient need. CONCLUSIONS: Persistent patterns of unmet need represent important targets for policy and programs that can improve utilization, including outreach, education, and improved insurance coverage.

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