It’s not a happy statistic.
The Town of Princeton has one of the highest levels of depression and anxiety in BC’s interior, and it resides in the worst-rated region in the province for the same afflictions.
According to a recent Interior Health report 36% of people in Princeton experience depression and anxiety compared to an average of 27 % in the communities covered by Interior Health, and an average of 25% across British Columbia. A previous report has the Okanagan ranked the highest region in BC for depression, out of 16 regions, with Richmond being the lowest.
Betty Brown, who works for Interior Health with the Healthy Communities Initiative, said the numbers should be “eye-opening,” in an interview with The Spotlight following a presentation to council Monday night.
She added mental health problems in the community are likely even more prevalent than the data suggests. “The key issue in mental health is that it is under-reported.”
Susan Brown, Community Health Services Administrator for Interior Health, said there has been no detailed analysis to explain Princeton’s high numbers of mental health patients.
The study captures any person who has visited a doctor for depression or anxiety twice in a one-year period, or who has been hospitalized for those issues.
“We know that in the South Okanagan we have a high rate of seniors,’ she said, adding that physical health concerns, loss of mobility, loss of friends and changes in family situations can cause depression in an aging population.
“It is a concern when people are socially isolated…I suspect the issue is far more complex though.”
Historically there has been spotty access to mental health services in the area, said Susan Brown. “For a good many years we did not have one psychiatrist in the whole South Okanagan…now we have a complete team.”
Those specialists are available to Princeton residents. As well, following a recently completed review of rural mental health services, permanent full time staff has been increased in Princeton.
Princeton General Hospital has a fulltime social worker and a mental health nurse, while a third member of the mental health team staffs the Anchorage Drop In Centre on Vermillion Avenue. Previously mental health workers were shared between Princeton and Keremeos.
“It’s great to see they are putting fulltime workers into the community,” said Marilyn Harkness, a nursing professional and former health care administrator.
Harkness, also a former town councilor and currently a volunteer with the Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition, said it’s important to “raise the level of awareness” about mental health.
She said lower than average education and income levels in Princeton may be impacting mental health statistics.
“They contribute to basic health. Why wouldn’t they be contributing factors to mental health?”
Harkness said people should “demand more from their health care system.” No one needs a doctor to receive mental health care. “It’s all self referral,” she said. “Call [the hospital] and say: ‘I need to see a social worker.’”