Mental health services go high tech

The Community Safety Knowledge Alliance spearheads project with help of U of S, RCMP and provincial governments

A community safety organization is hoping to use new technologies to help people in rural and remote communities gain better access to critical mental health and counselling services.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CSKA), would essentially see at-risk rural residents connect online with specialists that deal with mental health, family supports and addictions.

Such supports are severely limited in small communities, and people who live there must travel long distances to get help. This project is designed to help ensure residents are treated sooner and to allow RCMP to spend more time on the ground dealing with crime, said Cal Corley, chief executive officer of CSKA and formerly with the RCMP.

“It’s somewhat of a game changer,” said Corley, following his presentation at the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association conference in Edmonton on May 10.

CSKA is waiting for funds to pilot the project in Ontario and Saskatchewan, but has already partnered with the RCMP, the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan and Ontario governments to help get the project off the ground.

Over the last few years, the organization has been studying to see how the initiative could work. This project would be similar to many hub models already in place across Canada, though it would mostly be online.

Hubs are when RCMP collaborate with other service providers in communities to share limited information about at-risk citizens so they can figure out how they can best support them.

“Imagine these technological hubs being like an amped-up version of Skype,” said Chad Nilson, who has helped with the project and is a community engaged scholar and adviser with the University of Saskatchewan.

“They’re sitting in the comfort of their own home and don’t have to overcome huge barriers, like long-distance travel, finding a hotel and all of those other limitations.”

He said RCMP officers can spend a lot of time handling cases they’re not trained as well in. For example, they can conduct multiple visits when dealing with a domestic violence case, even though it would be best for a councillor to handle that.

“The officers would have an iPad on hand and connect that family to councillors immediately, rather than spending more time and money on solutions that aren’t built for the problem,” he said.

As well, there would be other community members, perhaps someone at the village office, who could be designated as a point-person to help at-risk residents connect with support workers virtually.

Corley said the organization will soon know whether or not it’ll receive funding for the project, though it has a number of partners who are keen to jump in on the initiative.

If approved, he said the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario would determine where it could be piloted in those provinces. If all goes well, he said it could be rolled out across the country. “This is trying to get our communities, our nation, to not wait for crisis to land on their lap and then do something. Rather, this is about actually detecting risk and help families before something bad happens,” Nilson said. “People deserve that, and it’s just more pragmatic.”

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