Princeton is a beautiful town situated in the Similkmeen Valley surrounded by mountains. The area is home to 4780 people, most of whom are 50 years of age and older, and over 10% of the population identifies as Indigenous (1). While the mean income is $57,000, 80% of the population falls below the poverty line (1). In this community, mental health has been identified as a significant concern; the rates of anxiety, mood disorders, and depression are 8 times higher, than those in the province of British Columbia (BC) overall (1). Substance use is also a significant concern, with many rural communities in BC suffering disproportionately from the toxic drug crisis. Princeton consistently has one of the highest drug related deaths per capita in the province of BC (2). These high rates of mental health and substance use have also been further exacerbated over the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other rural communities, Princeton has more limited resources for mental health and substance use than urban communities (1). While Princeton currently has a full-time mental health and substance use worker and a full-time youth counsellor, the community does not have adequate services and supports to meet the population’s needs. Another concern is the ability to retain staff in a rural setting.
The Princeton Community Health Table (PCHT) was formed in June 2020 as part of the BC Rural and First Nations Health and Wellness Summit, sponsored by the Rural Coordination Centre of BC and First Nations Health Authority. At the Summit, partners came together to discuss and plan for health services deliver in the rural community of Princeton and surrounding areas. The PCHT identified mental health and substance use as a priority for the health and wellness of the community. The PCHT began with a group of eight individuals representing various partner groups including community members, providers, policy-makers, and academic partners. At the Summit, the group decided to continue to meet to plan, develop and implement various community-based activities to promote the mental health and wellbeing of the community. Some of the original partners decided not to continue, but there was a strong representation of community members to lead this grassroots community-based initiative to improve services and supports for community members.
The goals of the PCHT are to:
(1) develop a community-driven package of mental health/substance use improvements;
(2) study the implementation of specific improvements to mental health/substance use service accessibility;
(3) evaluate the outcomes attributed to the implementation of mental health/substance use service improvements;
(4) sustain improvements via new partnerships and existing community partnerships; and
(5) develop a transferable and adaptable model for implementing improved mental health/substance use services in rural and remote BC communities.
Meetings started with a small number of individuals and grew to a membership of 14 people representing 10 organizations such as the Support Our Health Care, Princeton and District Community Services Society, Princeton Family Services Society, Vermillion Forks Metis Association, Okanagan Regional Library, School District 58, Princeton Secondary School, Town of Princeton, Princeton Regional Hospital, and the University of British Columbia Okanagan. The PCHT meets every four to six weeks.
Activities to date include:
Increasing awareness of mental health and substance use and services and supports available:
- Development of two brochures (adults and youth) with local and provincial resources
- Development of education sessions for students in the secondary school
- Virtual Public Forum on Breaking the Stigma
Providing services and supports:
- Working in partnership with the South Okanagan Women in Need Society that comes to Princeton one day per week to provide drug testing resources and harm reducation information to offer a Pop-up Health Table for health information, basic wound care, information on COVID, and other harm reducation materials
The PCHT continues to work towards its goals. Enthusiasm from the Table has been high with significant new partnerships being built. Along with the commitment of individuals and organizations, there are challenges. Funding is a major challenge; the PCHT has applied for numerous community-based and research funding opportunities, but to date we have had minimal success. We have received funding for printing our brochures. Despite these challenges, the PCHT’s commitment to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the Princeton community is at the forefront of the work that we do.