Visits to physicians that resulted in a mental health diagnosis increased at a faster rate for young people than adults in a study examining the outpatient delivery of mental health treatment by Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues.

The use of psychotropic medications to manage mental health diagnoses is increasing but little is known about changes in the delivery of mental health treatment, according to the study.

Researchers gathered data on outpatient visits to physicians in office-based practices in 1995-2010 from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys (N=446,542).

Between 1995-1998 and 2007-2010, visits resulting in mental disorder diagnoses per 100 population increased faster for youths (< 21 years) than for adults. Visits to psychiatrists also increased faster for youths than for adults. Nonpsychiatrist physicians making mental health diagnoses included pediatricians, general practitioners, internists and other specialists. In the study, psychotropic medication visits increased at comparable rates for youths and adults.

"Over the last several years, there has been an expansion in mental health care to children and adolescents in office-based medical practice. This growth, which coincided with an increase in the number of prescriptions of psychotropic medications, offers new clinical opportunities to relieve the psychological distress associated with the common childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders," the study concludes. "Yet, it also poses risks related to adverse medication effects, delivery of non-evidence-based care, and poorly coordinated services."