The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the mental health and substance use needs of people living in rural and remote communities and their access to adequate and timely services and supports.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Rural and Remote Mental Health and Substance Use, a collaboration with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the University of British Columbia, Okanagan (UBCO), highlights the unique needs of rural and remote communities and their mental health and substance use systems.
Key findings on the increased pressures these communities are facing include the following:
- Stigma and its effect on help seeking. Rural and remote communities often experience higher levels of stigma and increased privacy concerns when reaching out for formal mental health and substance use services and peer supports.
- A toxic drug supply. The pandemic has coincided with an increase in the toxic drug supply and rising rates of opioid-related deaths across Canada. Some rural and remote communities have felt their impacts disproportionately.
- Access to services and supports. Despite advances in virtual mental health and substance use services for rural and remote communities, barriers in access to services (especially primary care) remain due to a growing digital divide and a lack of culturally relevant care.
According to MHCC policy director Dr. Mary Bartram, “COVID-19 and the toxic drug crisis continue to have substantial and longer-lasting impacts on mental health and substance use for rural and remote communities. At the same time, and while there have been advances in care, services and supports remain increasingly stretched thin.”
The pandemic’s challenge to the resources, capacity, and solidarity of rural and remote communities has also reinforced the importance of resilience, something highlighted in a case study (outlined in the policy brief) with the community of Princeton, B.C. and the Princeton Community Health Table.
“Our partnership with the MHCC demonstrates national recognition of the ongoing inequities in rural and remote areas,” said Lauren Airth, a harm reduction lead at UBCO.
“Community members from rural and remote areas have significant, first-hand experience with these inequities, she added, “and by partnering with the MHCC we’re seeing these experiences shared on a platform where we hope additional partnerships and innovative solutions can be expanded.”
Today, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. ET (10-11:30 a.m. PT), representatives from UBCO, the MHCC, and the Rural Coordination Centre of B.C. will continue the conversation on COVID-19, mental health, and substance use in rural and remote communities.
Mental Health Commission of Canada
613-683-3748 / firstname.lastname@example.org