Purpose To inform efforts to reduce costly service utilization, the present study examined longitudinal trajectories of mental health–related outpatient and residential service use among at-risk youth with a history of early externalizing problems. Methods A cohort of 809 children in the Fast Track Project, a multisite longitudinal study of children at risk for conduct disorder, were followed prospectively from kindergarten through 12th grade. They resided in high-risk areas with high rates of poverty, crime, and violence. Their outpatient and residential service use was assessed annually between sixth and 12th grades through parent report. Growth mixture modeling was applied to model individual differences in trajectories of service use during this period. Teacher, parent, and observer-reported childhood predictors of those trajectories were also examined. Results Most youths had minimal service use during preadolescence into adolescence. However, approximately 31% had moderate probability of using outpatient counseling services, and approximately 8% had elevated probability of seeing a family doctor for mental health needs. For residential services, approximately 6% had moderate to high probability of service use that peaked during transition to high school, whereas close to 5% had service use that dramatically increased during high school. Childhood predictors of these trajectories included earlier externalizing, internalizing, and emotion regulation problems. Conclusions This study is the first to use person-centered analytic methods to examine longitudinal trajectories in mental health–related service use among at-risk adolescents. Timely treatment for severe externalizing problems, comorbid internalizing problems, and emotion dysregulation during childhood may be crucial for preventing chronic service use.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Psychiatry and Mental health