Psychiatrist shortage prompts online mental health services for Cranbrook youth

Latest extension of the province’s Tele-mental Health program reaches Cranbrook
By Jon Hernandez, CBC News

Children and teens in need of mental health services in Cranbrook will now get access to psychiatrists via the web. The Ministry of Children and Family Development has announced it will extend its Tele-mental Health program to the city.

The online videoconferencing service gives youth one-on-one bi-monthly consultations with psychiatrists in conjunction with B.C. Children’s Hospital. The psychiatrists will also visit their patients once every two months.

The program is currently offered in other more remote locations around B.C.

“The technology of telehealth has really expanded the opportunity to provide care to more rural and remote areas of BC,” said Dr. Susan Baer, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and director of outpatient mental health services at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Baer is one of the psychiatrists who will be working with the Tele-mental Health program to offer treatment to children in Cranbrook.

A national psychiatrist shortage

The extension of the Tele-mental Health program comes after what’s been declared as a widespread shortage of child psychiatrists across the country. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 80 per cent of children in need of mental health services never receive them.

Prior to the announcement, youth in need of treatment in Cranbrook — a city with nearly 20,000 people and a major hospital — had to leave town in order to find mental health services, or wait for physicians to visit the community.

“There’s not that many child and adolescent psychiatrists [in British Columbia],” said Baer. “And the ones that are in B.C. tend to be situated in the lower mainland.”

The Tele-mental Health Program is currently implemented in a number of rural and remote communities in British Columbia, including:

  • Prince Rupert.
  • Smithers.
  • Terrace.
  • Kitimat.
  • Hazelton.
  • Burns Lake.
  • Vanderhoof.
  • New Aiyansh.

There are 22 other communities across the province that have also expressed interest in the Tele-mental Health program, according to a press release.

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