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Keywords:

  • Mental health care utilization;
  • physical and mental health interplay;
  • quasi-experiment;
  • difference-in-differences estimators;
  • propensity scores

Objective

To test the degree to which adverse physical health events may subsequently increase the utilization of mental health services.

Methods

A quasi-experimental pretest–posttest design was employed on a nationally representative sample of adults from the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys for years 2004 and 2005. We constructed a 2-year balanced-panel dataset on 6,017 U.S. adults who did not have any adverse physical health events in 2004. We calculated difference-in-differences estimators that capture the effect of adverse physical health events on provider visits and prescription drug use for the treatment of mental health conditions.

Principal Findings

Our most rigorous analytic model shows that an adverse physical health event is significantly associated with more than a threefold increase in the likelihood of provider visits and prescribed medication use for the treatment of mental health problems. These increases are mainly through office-based physician visits for nonsevere mental health conditions. This relationship is greater among those who experience more severe physical health events.

Conclusion

An adverse physical health event substantially increases the utilization of mental health care. Mental health service use increases with the severity of a physical health condition.