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Open Access Research article

Discrepancies between survey and administrative data on the use of mental health services in the general population: findings from a study conducted in Québec

Aline Drapeau123*, Richard Boyer12 and Fatoumata Binta Diallo23

Author Affiliations

1 Département de psychiatrie de l'université de Montréal, C.P. 6138 Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, H3C 3J7, Canada

2 Centre de recherche Fernand-Seguin, 7331 rue Hochelaga, Montréal, H1N 3V2, Canada

3 Département de médecine sociale et préventive de l'université de Montréal, C.P. 6138 Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, H3C 3J7, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:837  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-837

Published: 31 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Population surveys and health services registers are the main source of data for the management of public health. Yet, the validity of survey data on the use of mental health services has been questioned repeatedly due to the sensitive nature of mental illness and to the risk of recall bias. The main objectives of this study were to compare data on the use of mental health services from a large scale population survey and a national health services register and to identify the factors associated with the discrepancies observed between these two sources of data.

Methods

This study was based on the individual linkage of data from the cycle 1.2 of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS-1.2) and from the health services register of the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ). The RAMQ is the governmental agency managing the Quebec national health insurance program. The analyses mostly focused on the 637 Quebecer respondents who were recorded as users of mental health services in the RAMQ and who were self-reported users or non users of these services in the CCHS-1.2.

Results

Roughly 75%, of those recorded as users of mental health services users in the RAMQ's register did not report using mental health services in the CCHS-1.2. The odds of disagreement between survey and administrative data were higher in seniors, individuals with a lower level of education, legal or de facto spouses and mothers of young children. They were lower in individuals with a psychiatric disorder and in frequent and more recent users of mental health services according to the RAMQ's register.

Conclusions

These findings support the hypotheses that social desirability and recall bias are likely to affect the self-reported use of mental health services in a population survey. They stress the need to refine the investigation of mental health services in population surveys and to combine survey and administrative data, whenever possible, to obtain an optimal estimation of the population need for mental health care.