The effect of context in rural mental health care: Understanding integrated services in a small town

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Unequal health care outcomes for those with mental illness mean that access to integrated models is critical to supporting good physical and mental health care. This is especially so in rural areas where geographic and structural issues constrain the provision of health services. Guided by a conceptual framework about rural and remote health, this study draws on interviews with health providers and other staff and examines the dynamics of integrated primary and community-based specialist care for people with severe and persistent mental illnesses living in rural Australia. Findings show that the facilitation of sustainable linkages between general practice and community mental health requires the skilful exercise of power, knowledge, and resources by partners in order to address the social and structural factors that influence local health situations. These findings suggest that incremental processes of integration that are responsive to patients’ and stakeholders’ needs and that build on success and increased trust may be more effective than those imposed from the ‘top down’ that pay insufficient attention to local contexts.

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