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What is collaborative mental health?

Collaborative mental health care involves professionals from different disciplines, specialties or sectors working together within a common framework to offer complementary services and mutual support. These professionals work to ensure that clients receive the most appropriate, cost-effective and high-quality mental health services in primary care settings (Gagné, 2005). These services may range from health promotion and early detection to diagnosis, treatment and recovery support.
As outlined by Kates et al. (2011), effective collaborative mental health services involve the following key features:
  • build on personal contacts, mutual respect, trust and recognition of each partner's potential roles and contributions
  • involve effective practices that are evidence- and experience-based
  • remain responsive to the changing needs of clients, their families and other caregivers, and to resource availability
  • allow context and culture to shape care
  • ensure relevance and responsiveness to local resource availability and to the skills and interests of participating practitioners


Specific models of collaboration (Kates et al., 2011): 

Effective communication—Involves sharing relevant information about both services/programs and clients in an appropriate and timely way to facilitate common understanding. The communication process may include different practitioners as well as clients, and occurs in person, through electronic records or by telephone.
Consultation—Emphasizes developing close links within a practice between the primary care team and mental health staff (both ways); providing guidance, advice and follow-up to support care of clients and families; and sharing the responsibility for care. This consultation process may occur in a primary care setting, at a mental health facility, or by telephone, for example.
Co-ordination—Involves the active co-ordination of care and clinical services to provide better care, prevent duplication and promote a more effective use of resources. This can include interprofessional capacity-building programs, visits to primary care facilities, and communication tools such as telephone and Internet.
Co-location—May involve mental health professionals directly employed in primary care or the addition of primary care practitioners to specialized mental illness and substance use services to address clients' physical and mental health.
Integration—Combines mental health and primary care practitioners within a single service or team. The key element here is that team members share care planning and decision-making processes, as well as co-ordinating collaborative activities. A common medical record is used and care is provided considering the needs of the clients and the available skills of the team. This model usually takes place in a primary care or community setting.

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