Does rural residence limit access to mental health services?

Cindy L Hardy, Karen D Kelly, Don Voaklander
Rural and Remote Health 2011, 11 (4): 1766

INTRODUCTION: Rural residence may reduce access to specialized mental health services. The objective of this study was to examine the role of rural residence in relation to service utilization. Using Canadian data collected in 2002, service use was examined as a function of the presence of anxiety or mood disorders and rural/urban residence. Use of four different types of professional mental health services was examined in relation to rural residence and additional demographic, social, and health status factors known to predict use of services.

METHODS: Data were obtained from Statistics Canada's Canadian Mental Health Survey Cycle 1.2. Rural residence was defined as living in a rural community with a population of 1000 or less. For all participants, associations between the presence of anxiety or mood disorders, rural/urban residence, and any service use or use of specialized mental health services (psychiatry and psychology) were examined. For participants who had used professional services, associations were examined between 17 predictor variables, including location of residence, and the use of four types of service providers (family doctor or GP; nurse, social worker, counsellor, or psychotherapist; psychiatrist; or psychologist). Predictors included demographic, social, and health status variables. Cross-tabulated counts and adjusted odds ratios with 99% confidence intervals based on bootstrapped variance estimates were used to evaluate predictors.

RESULTS: Among the total sample (<em>n </em>= 35 140), 7.9% had used professional mental health services in the previous year. Among people who were likely to have had anxiety or mood disorders, rural or urban residence was not differentially related to past-year use of any professional services or specialized mental health services. Multivariate logistic regression was used to model factors predicting past year use of four different types of professional services. Location of residence was not a significant predictor of service utilization. Age, sex, race, level of education, degree of psychological distress, chronicity of distress, and the presence of anxiety or mood disorders predicted type of service used.

CONCLUSIONS: The notion that rural residence limits access to mental health services was not supported. Other demographic and health status indicators such as age, sex, race, education, distress, and type of illness were more important predictors of service utilization. However, null findings related to geographic residence must be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample of rural residents who sought mental health services. The mental health system in Canada must provide a variety of professional services in order to meet the preferences of diverse groups, and mental health specialists must find ways to adequately support general practice physicians and counsellors who provide mental health services.

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