The landscape of mental health services in rural Canada

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Erik Friesen

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Abstract





Many Canadians living in rural and remote communities face difficulty accessing mental health services. This has become a pressing issue in the Canadian healthcare system due to an increased focus on mental health and the high rate of suicide in rural regions as compared to urban communities. The inaccessibility of mental health services in rural Canada can only be partially explained by the lack of psychiatrists working in these areas. Additional access barriers arise from sociocultural nuances within individual rural communities, including an increased value placed on self-reliance and stigmatization of seeking mental health support. It has been challenging for mental health services to adequately address the vast social, economic and cultural differences that exist among individual rural communities – a reality that necessitates holistic mental health programs tailored to the unique complexities of each community. Nonetheless, programs aiming to improve accessibility of rural mental health services do exist across Canada, often employing technology to deliver psychiatric support to rural patients or provide guidance to rural primary care physicians who care for patients with mental illness. This narrative review outlines the barriers that are impeding mental health care in rural Canada, the existing strategies to circumvent these barriers, and the role of current medical students in the future of rural psychiatry.