A mental health mini-course, co-led by Dr. Lysak.
Stuck? Ignored? Endless waits?
What do you do when "just ask for help" doesn't help?
This four-session online course will help you work around our broken system. Covered under MSP, co-led by Dr. Lysak.
Note: The information on this page is not provided (or approved) by Island Health. See below.
Finding a general outpatient psychiatrist in Victoria is not easy. With that in mind, we hope the following suggestions can help you. This page covers adult psychiatry, not child and adolescent.
If safety is an issue, call 9-1-1, go to the RJH or other ER, or call the crisis line (1-888-494-3888).
To see a psychiatrist in BC, you need a referral from a doctor, usually a family doctor (or an ER doctor in emergencies). If you don't have a family doctor, see one at a walk-in clinic. They'll send a letter to the psychiatrist (or Island Health program) asking for you to be seen.
Family doctors are perfectly capable of treating mental illness and do so every day. Routine cases don't require a psychiatrist. If they think you need one, they can assess the urgency and send you to the right place in the system. They can also quickly get advice from a psychiatrist to help manage your care via the RACE (Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise) service.
If your situation is causing enough distress or risk that it should be dealt with quickly but isn't an emergency, a family doctor may refer you to USTAT (Urgent Short Term Assessment and Treatment). This Island Health clinic provides access to psychiatrists, therapists, and groups. In theory, accepted patients are seen within several weeks (in practice, it's now usually several months) of the referral being received and care provided for up to three months. After that...?
Finding a psychiatrist to provide long-term care is incredibly difficult and may involve lots of luck. The current situation is terrible. Family doctors are stuck if they feel they can't provide you proper care. They'll often throw up their hands and say, "if you can find someone, I'll refer you."
They can try a referral through CARES for the Island Health clinics or contact one of the very few private practice psychiatrists to see if they're taking patients (we post this on our website).
Family doctors can also refer you for a one-time consultation, where you are seen once by a psychiatrist (picked by Island Health). Your family doctor gets advice back that they use to provide care for you themselves. If your needs are anything less than urgent, this may be your best bet.
Ask a family doctor to send a referral to mental health intake (see "CARES") and specify that it's for a "one-time consultation." Unfortunately, last we checked, their waiting list for even a one-time consultation has stretched to many months in most cases.
For many problems, a psychologist, clinical counsellor, or other therapist may be helpful, possibly in conjunction with a family doctor. If money is tight, the Victoria Disability Resource Centre provides a list of free and affordable counselling providers.
No help from professionals? Endless waits?
Learn what you can do right now!
Dr. Lysak's book helps you make the most of your mental health care, even with limited access to professionals.
Learn what questions to ask, what tests you need, and how to master even short medical appointments.
Avoid huge (but common) mistakes with medications, supplements, and other treatments.
Discover what lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
"You know the mental health system is screwed up when you need a book to find decent care."
Referrals to all the Island Health programs go through a central intake system. This includes for USTAT, VMHC, one-time consultations, and more. Virtually all require a physician referral, preferably using a standard form they provide. There are exceptions, including for substance use (e.g., detox) and single-session counselling, where you can self-refer.
Call CARES (250-519-3485) with all questions about wait times or accessing the system.Island Health Referrals
Her practice is currently full, and there is already a substantial waiting list. Anyone requiring mental health care should try to find alternative means of treatment with help from their care team. Sitting on a waiting list for years is not treatment.
Once her waiting list has been mostly cleared, she will start accepting new referrals again until it again gets too long. And no, there is no "waiting list for the waiting list." Sorry.Referral information
In Victoria, there aren't enough psychiatrists for all the people who would benefit from seeing one (i.e., supply and demand).
It's a bit more complicated than that. Most psychiatrists in Victoria work for Island Health, including emergency, inpatient treatment at RJH, and various outpatient programs. You need to meet certain criteria to attend those programs.
You can also see a psychiatrist in private practice, i.e., not working at an Island Health program (but still paid by MSP). Unfortunately, there are very, very few private practice psychiatrists in Victoria, and virtually all are full.
This wasn't as much of a problem in the past, as most people were being seen in Island Health programs. However, in ~2016, they substantially tightened their criteria, so far fewer people were eligible. That left far more people seeking help from the few private practice psychiatrists.
Things have only gotten worse since that time for non-urgent care, which is provided at Victoria Mental Health Centre (VMHC). Recruitment hasn't kept pace with psychiatrists leaving, and demand continues to increase. At this point (late 2020), we've heard that pretty much the only people getting into VMHC outpatient programs are those who've been discharged from inpatient admissions.
This information is provided by Dr. Lysak's office to assist people based on public Island Health information and communication with multiple doctors, MOA's, patients, and others. It is not provided (or approved) by Island Health.
Find this helpful? Know something you think should be added to this? Please email us.