Conversations on telemental health: listening to remote and rural First Nations communities

Kerri L Gibson, Heather Coulson, Roseanne Miles, Christal Kakekakekung, Elizabeth Daniels, Susan O'Donnell
Rural and Remote Health 2011, 11 (2): 1656

INTRODUCTION: Telemental health involves technologies such as videoconferencing to deliver mental health services and education, and to connect individuals and communities for healing and health. In remote and rural First Nations communities there are often challenges to obtaining mental healthcare in the community and to working with external mental health workers. Telemental health is a service approach and tool that can address some of these challenges and potentially support First Nations communities in their goal of improving mental health and wellbeing. Community members' perspectives on the usefulness and appropriateness of telemental health can greatly influence the level of engagement with the service. It appears that no research or literature exists on First Nations community members' perspectives on telemental health, or even on community perspectives on the broader area of technologies for mental health services. Therefore, this article explores the perspectives on telemental health of community members living in two rural and remote First Nations communities in Ontario, Canada. METHODS; This study was part of the VideoCom project, a collaborative research project exploring how remote and rural First Nations communities are using ICTs. This current exploration was conducted with the support of Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO), our partner in Northwestern Ontario. With the full collaboration of the communities' leadership, a team involving KO staff and VideoCom researchers visited the two communities in the spring of 2010. Using a participatory research design, we interviewed 59 community members, asking about their experiences with and thoughts on using technologies and their attitudes toward telemental health, specifically. A thematic analysis of this qualitative data and a descriptive quantitative analysis of the information revealed the diversity of attitudes among community members. Finally, based on a discussion with the community telehealth staff, a 'ways forward' section was proposed as a way to begin addressing certain issues that were raised by community members.

RESULTS: This article explores the continuum of community members' perspectives that range from interest and enthusiasm to hesitancy and concern. One participant reported personal experience with using telemental health and found the approach helpful in increasing her comfort in the therapeutic situation. In addition, concerns relating to appropriateness and safety were voiced. A variety of advantages (eg facilitation of disclosure, increased access to services, usefulness) and disadvantages or concerns (eg interference with capacity building, concerns about privacy) are reported and discussed. Following a coding procedure, a descriptive quantitative analysis demonstrated that 47% of the participants were categorized as having a positive response toward telemental health, 32% as having a negative response, and 21% as being neutral or undecided.

CONCLUSIONS: Valuing Indigenous knowledge can help us understand community members' experiences of and concerns with telemental health and inform more successful and appropriate initiatives. With the invaluable support of the KO Telemedicine co-authors, we offer ways forward to address concerns identified by the community members. Most importantly, any ways forward for community telemental health initiatives need to be community driven and community led.

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