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To date, no studies have assessed in detail the characteristics, organisation, and functioning of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). This information gap represents a major limitation for researchers and clinicians because most mental disorders have their onset in childhood or adolescence, and effective interventions can therefore represent a major factor in avoiding chronicity. Interventions and mental health care are delivered by and through services, and not by individual, private clinicians, and drawbacks or limitations of services generally translate in inappropriateness and ineffectiveness of treatments and interventions: therefore information about services is essential to improve the quality of care and ultimately the course and outcome of mental disorders in childhood and adolescence.
The present paper reports the results of the first study aimed at providing detailed, updated and comprehensive data on CAMHS of a densely populated Italian region (over 4 million inhabitants) with a target population of 633,725 subjects aged 0-17 years.
Unit Chiefs of all the CAMHS filled in a structured 'Facility Form', with activity data referring to 2008 (data for inpatient facilities referred to 2009), which were then analysed in detail.
Eleven CAMHS were operative, including 110 outpatient units, with a ratio of approximately 20 child psychiatrists and 23 psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants aged 0-17 years. All outpatient units were well equipped and organized and all granted free service access. In 2008, approximately 6% of the target population was in contact with outpatient CAMHS, showing substantial homogeneity across the eleven areas thereby. Most patients in contact in 2008 received a language disorder- or learning disability diagnosis (41%). First-ever contacts accounted for 30% of annual visits across all units. Hospital bed availability was 5 per 100,000 inhabitants aged 0-17 years.
The percentage of young people in contact with CAMHS for mental disorders is in line with those observed in previous epidemiological studies. The overall number of child psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants is one of the highest in Europe and it is comparable with the most well equipped areas in the US. This comparison should be interpreted with caution, however, because in Italy, child psychiatrists also treat neurological disorders. Critical areas requiring improvement are: the uneven utilisation of standardised assessment procedures and the limited availability of dedicated emergency services during non-office hours (e.g., nights and holidays).