Mental health in BC
“almost one million British Columbians will experience a mental health or substance use issue of varying severity and types this and every year…That is one in five of us. Many may also face concurrent mental health and substance use issues, or experience these health issues alone or in tandem with other physical illnesses…We know that the services needed to address these challenges aren’t keeping pace with needs” (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, 2021, p. 4-5, emphasis added)
Mental health has been emerging as a key health issue in BC, even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought its relevance into the mainstream. With the grim statistics of "one in five of us" as a backdrop, British Columbians were presented with a roadmap in 2019 detailing a vision of “transforming the mental health and addictions system to ensure every door is the right door, and people can ask once and get help fast. The Pathway to Hope acknowledges that physical and mental health are equally important for creating thriving and resilient communities” (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, 2021, p. 3).
Mental health is often framed at the individual level, but communities are uniquely positioned to help meet mental health needs. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2022 mental health report, called for nations to engender “environments that influence our mental health and by developing community-based mental health services capable of achieving universal health coverage for mental health (WHO, 2022, p. v).
Through the eyes of a social worker
It was heartening for me as a social worker who had worked in an interdisciplinary team at a primary care network and also at a 24/7 mental health and addiction helpline to observe an increasing acknowledgment of the critical place of attending to mental health and wellbeing at the provincial and international stages.
It is even more encouraging for me as a new team member of the BC Association of Community Health Centres to consider and conclude that these visions affirmed what our member community health centres (CHCs) have been championing over the years.
Mental health provision and support through a community-informed lens and by community-driven CHCs have been translated by resourcefulness and commitment into:
- The delivery of integrated, people-centered services and programs that reflect the needs and priorities of the diverse communities they serve
- The provision of comprehensive, accessible, affordable, and culturally appropriate services through a collaborative team approach
- The offering of programs and services for healthy living and community wellbeing in addition to primary care
- Actively addressing the social determinants of health, reducing the adverse impact of physiological and psychological stresses, and improving living conditions through access to food, housing, education, and the supports needed to thrive (Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010)
- A commitment to fairness, the values of health equity, and social justice
Integrating mental health services at the community level
The CHC’s core guiding principles are aligned with the call to integrate mental health into primary health care in a stigma and discrimination-free landscape where accessible, affordable, and quality mental health care is a human right (WHO, 2022). The CHCs integrated, people-centered services and programs that reflect the needs and priorities of the diverse communities answer the invitation of the BC province to integrate services, collaborate, and work together to be the solution to “a province-wide issue that touches the lives of so many people, and affects our relationships, our work, our communities and so much more." (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, 2019, p. 3). This model has so much to offer.
As the Ministry of Health recognizes, "Only by coming together, can we deliver the changes needed to support people in addressing their challenges and help us move forward in a proactive, progressive, and supportive province.” (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, 2019, p. 3). The opportunity is here and community-based solutions are on hand.
What do you think?
Do you think CHCs are truly best placed to support the community, especially the vulnerable populations as they integrate physical, mental, and social health support, build bridges and reduce barriers to holistic care?
What is the experience of your community?
Please share your stories, experiences, and suggestions and we can work together to promote mental health and wellbeing in communities.
Written by Catherine Aw, MSW, RSW
BCACHC Program Manager
- Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, British Columbia. (2019). A pathway to hope: A roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for people in British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/initiatives-plans-strategies/mental-health-and-addictions-strategy/bcmentalhealthroadmap_2019web-5.pdf
- Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, British Columbia. (2021). A pathway to hope: Progress report. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/ministries/mental-health-addictions/pathway_to_hope_update_report_final.pdf
- Mikkonen, J., & Raphael, D. (2010). Social determinants of health: The Canadian facts. https://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf
- World Health Organization (WHO). (2022). World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all (Executive Summary). https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1433523/retrieve