OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to determine the relative importance of self-, parent-, and teacher-reported problem behavior for initial specialist mental health care use in adolescence and the extent to which the relative importance of each informant changes over time.
METHODS: Data from the Dutch community-based cohort study TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS) were linked to administrative records of specialist mental health care organizations. Self-, parent-, and teacher-reported internalizing and externalizing problems were assessed at ages 11, 13, and 16 years, with self-reported problems also assessed at age 19 years. The study included 1,478 adolescents, of whom 19.8% had administrative records between January 2000 (age 9 years) and December 2011 (age 21 years).
RESULTS: After effects of internalizing and externalizing problems were adjusted for each other and for sociodemographic correlates, internalizing problems, but not externalizing problems, predicted initial specialist mental health care use. Teacher reports mainly predicted initial specialist care between the ages of 11 and 13 years (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.57; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.22-2.02; P < .001), parent reports mainly predicted initial specialist care between the ages of 13 and 16 years (HR = 1.47; 95% CI, = 1.13-1.91; P = .004), and self-reports mainly predicted initial specialist care between the ages of 16 and 19 years (HR = 1.61; 95% CI, = 1.25-2.08; P < .001) and between the ages 19 and 21 years (HR = 1.50; 95% CI, 1.10-2.05; P = .011).
CONCLUSIONS: Teachers, parents, and adolescents are the driving force behind initial specialist care at consecutive phases in adolescence. Future research should assess whether improving the problem recognition of teachers in secondary education and educating young adults about mental health problems are effective ways of reducing the treatment gap.