Reprinted from the "Rural, Remote and Northern Communities" issue of Visions Journal, 2020, 16 (1), p. 4
Where we live matters—it fundamentally shapes our experience. And not just our housing, but the community, neighbourhoods and land. This issue is actually a subtheme under “culture” because culture, considered broadly, is about groups of people with shared values, context and experience. As you’ll read in the pages ahead, there are definite shared realities of living in smaller, more isolated communities. Getting a regular window into that world is important instruction to all those in urban spaces who often make decisions about services and supports in rural regions. When many services were closed during the initial COVID-19 outbreak, urban- and suburban-dwellers got a peak into the feeling of disconnect many rural and northern citizens are, frankly, used to.
I am a settler writing this from a big city built on unceded Coast Salish territory, but my best friend is from a rural community. I distinctly remember her distress during the terrible 2018 wildfire season when her family had to evacuate. Her brother, who has schizophrenia, had a psychotic episode triggered by the stress and had to be hospitalized. His small local hospital has no psychiatric ward so he had to be transported three hours to the next largest city to wait for a bed there. Their parents could not visit him often. It was incredibly stressful for everyone that he couldn’t get care near home and that home was also being ravaged by an environmental disaster—sadly, both of those outcomes are far more likely for people living outside cities like Vancouver and Victoria.
I know that a lot of concerns raised in this volume are also not unique to rural and remote British Columbians. Deaths from a toxic drug supply are an issue everywhere. So is housing insecurity. So is suicide. And people in urban centres, despite more choice, still have lots of struggle accessing help and care in the publicly-funded system. Most subsidized services seem to have very particular criteria and if you don’t check all the right boxes (age, diagnosis, symptom severity, postal code) and get the right referrals, you can feel just as isolated, neglected and alone in the middle of a big city. There’s so much to love about life in a small town so let’s make sure our rural, remote and northern neighbours have extra support to get help when they need it and that we also commit to making changes that make the system more accessible for everyone.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division