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Questions and Answers

What is a referral?


Author: Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division


A referral means someone recommends you to another service. In health care, it usually means a request from your doctor to see a specialist like a psychiatrist.

To access any specialist in BC, you first need a referral. You may need to meet certain criteria, like a specific diagnosis or specific symptoms, to access some specialists. Your doctor can tell you what to expect.

Once your doctor has made the referral, the specialist's office will contact you with an appointment time. Make sure your doctor’s office has your current contact information so the specialist can reach you.

The process is the same whether you see the same family doctor or visit a walk-in clinic.

Not all mental health programs in BC require a doctor’s referral. This is good news for people who are looking for help! A "self-referral" means that you ask to see someone, and then you will be evaluated to see if you meet the criteria to receive services. Contact your local health authority to learn more about programs in your area:

Where can I learn more?


About the author

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The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit


Q&A is for readers who want to take charge of their well-being, support a friend or loved one, find good help, or just learn more about mental health and substance use. Here, the information and resource experts at HeretoHelp will answer the questions that we’re asked most often. We'll offer tips and information, and we'll connect you with help in BC, Canada. If you have a question you'd like to ask, email us at [email protected].


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