Thirty years of referrals to a community mental health service
In recent decades mental health services have become increasingly community based and multidisciplinary. However, it is unclear if referrals have changed over this period. The aim of this study was to compare referrals to a community mental health service over a 30-year period.
New referrals to a community mental health service were randomly sampled from 4 time points over a 30-year period, 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013, using a mental health information system. Original referral letters were retrieved and anonymised. Referrals were compared with regard to referral sources, demographics, reason for referral, psychotherapy requests, urgency, risk concerns and subsequent hospital admission.
There was a 20-fold increase in the number of new referrals between 1983 and 2013. Over the 30 years there was a significant decrease in the proportion of referrals expressing concern about psychosis, but an increase in the proportion that were deemed urgent and which were concerned with suicidal risk. Referrals in 2013 were longer and more likely to contain requests for psychotherapy.
The work of community mental health teams is increasingly concerned with emotional crises. Although services are now more multidisciplinary, they have not been adequately resourced to meet these changing demands.