Access to Psychiatric Care

In most columns I advice speaking with your family doctor if you have mental health concerns or believe you may have a psychiatric disorder of some kind. In general, this is a good starting point and may be all you need in order to receive complete, quality care.

But if specialist services are needed, are they easy to access in Kelowna? And how does a person go about doing this?

The Okanagan offers many different mental health services and there are several ways to access them.

First, if you are already seeing a family physician regarding your mental health concerns and would like to speak with a specialist, your doctor can refer you to local psychiatrists or counseling programs.

In the Okanagan, there is a Central Intake Program, which was designed for the purpose of directing family physician referrals to the most appropriate resources in the community.

Some of these resources require all referrals to come through this proram. These include: the Kelowna Mental Health Centre; MACS (McNair Ambulatory Care) Program at KGH; and the Kelowna Family Centre's individual counseling program.

For those who prefer not to consult a family physician as a first step, there are some mental health service providers in the Okanagan that allow clients to contact them directly.

Some of these include: Kelowna Alcohol and Drug Services; Kelowna Youth and Family Services; Reachout Youth Counseling Centre; Kelowna Family Centre; Elizabeth Fry Society; Hospice Association; Child and Youth Mental Health; Kelowna Women's Shelter; John Howard Society; and the UBC Okanagan counseling department for students.

It is also possible to contact a psychiatrist directly, however psychiatric care is only fully covered under MSP providing you are referred by your family physician. This referral has to be renewed every six months.

Kelowna also offers several fee-for-service counselors and therapists who can be contacted directly. These can be located in the phone book.

Mental health care providers range from nurses to social workers to licensed psychologists or psychiatrists and offer a wide range of services. It is important to find out the credentials of the person you are seeing. Anyone can call him or herself a counselor.

Psychiatrists are the only ones who can prescribe medication to treat specific disorders so if you want the opinion of a medically trained specialist, consult a psychiatrist.

In general, it is appropriate to consult a psychiatrist in addition to your family physician if you are off work on disability due to mental health issues. Also, if you have tried a number of treatments without success, are not clear about your diagnosis or have a more compliated condition such as bipolar disorder, it is a good idea to speak wiht a psychatrist.

Although medication costs are not covered by MSP, it can often be obtained without cost for those who truly can't afford it. Your family doctor or psychiatrist will know how to access these benefits.

Anyone who is impaired to the degree that it is difficult to function at work or at home should visit a psychiatrist at least once to obtain a clear diagnosis. Sometimes what seems like a simple depression can have many different facets that take time and expertise to sort out. Knowing all of those complexities is important in choosing the most appropriate treatment.

Although access to psychiatrists in the Okanagan is relatively good compared to many places, waiting lists do exist for many. These vary from person to person and also depend on the urgency of the situation. If you want to find the shortest waiting list, call around and ask. Often, family physicians are very busy and may not have time to do this for you. Be proactive even if you are being referred - you may ask for a specific specialist.

Another option in the quest to receive immediate service is to look into what clinical trials are going on in the community. If you meet the criteria for an ongoing study, there are generally no waiting lists and there is absolutely no cost to you.

Finally, once you do get an appointment with a specialist, it is very important to keep that appointment. It is frustrating when people fail to show up when there are many people waiting to be seen.


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