Collaborative mental health care plays a key role

Mental health services are increasingly recognizing the key roles that primary care play in delivering mental health care in almost every community in Canada, and the importance of building collaborative partnerships to optimise these roles. Achieving this enables services to use their respective resources more efficiently, improve access to needed mental health and addiction services, better coordinate care, and improve the experience for the person seeking or receiving care for a mental health and addiction problem.

While there are many things that any mental health service can do to improve collaboration, such as more timely communication and transmission of reports, and providing telephone consultation and back-up to family physicians, more and more communities are also integrating mental health services within primary care settings.  These models have consistently demonstrated their ability to improve access, continuity and coordination of care, and reduce utilization of traditional mental health services. They are well received by both service users and providers, who find being seen in their family physician’s office for a mental health problem not only more convenient, but also less stigmatizing.

Since 1996, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and College of Family Physicians of Canada have worked together to promote collaboration among their members, and have sponsored an extremely successful annual meeting since 2000, which this year attracted almost 500 attendees. The initial impetus for this work came from a position paper they prepared in 1997, which led to the creation of a joint working group that continues to meet today.  Because of the growing enthusiasm for collaborative care among providers and health system planners, the working group has recently updated the original position paper.

“The Evolution of Collaborative Mental Health Care in Canada: A Shared Vision for the Future” builds on work that has already taken place, and introduces a framework for collaborative mental health care to move forward.  It presents a vision of how primary care could be part of a better integrated system of mental health care and identifies changes providers need to make to reap the benefits. It outlines specific strategies that can be followed by individual practitioners, as well as local, regional, provincial and territorial health planners, educational institutions and other key stakeholders. This will promote the advancement of a shared agenda to better meet the needs of populations and communities, especially those with limited access to required care, prepare future practitioners for a more responsive and person-centred style of practice, and begin to change the way that mental health care is delivered across Canada.


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