Rural Mental Health

Rural CommunityHealth disparities in both physical and mental health are abundant in rural communities. Due to the decrease in agriculture and manufacturing over the past few decades, those living in rural areas are increasingly likely to be involved in part-time, low-wage work and there are limited opportunities for economic mobility. Those living in rural communities suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and suicide. Access to primary care, preventative care, and mental health services is limited in rural communities. 

Mental health providers are in short supply everywhere, but this shortage is even more pronounced in rural areas.In rural areas, specialists are rare and often only come to the area once in a while. Additionally, long travel times to mental health providers and a lack of culturally competent providers are barriers to care for those living in rural areas.

Older Adults
Older adults living in rural areas are at particular risk for experiencing mental and physical health problems. According to the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the most common reason that older adults living in rural areas site to seeking mental health services is the belief that they “should not need help”. Stigma may impact those living in small, rural towns more due to the lack of anonymity. Public health campaigns that include images of seniors and messages aimed at this population (i.e., through rotary clubs vs. twitter) are important in helping reduce this stigma. 

Senior volunteer programs in these areas have a positive impact on the older adults that participate in the activities, as well as, on the volunteers themselves. Volunteers engage in activities like leading classes for seniors in the area or taking on the grocery shopping of seniors who live near them. According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service’s (CNCS) Senior Corps, 46% of volunteers reported improved health and well-being after one year of service. Notably, 63% of the older adult volunteers reported a decrease in feelings of isolation. As one volunteer said, “Everything that I do with my clients also helps me stay healthy.” Learn more about senior volunteer programs here

According to the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the most common reason that older adults living in rural areas site to seeking mental health services is the belief that they “should not need help”. Stigma may impact those living in small, rural towns more due to the lack of anonymity. Public health campaigns that include images of seniors and messages aimed at this population (i.e., through rotary clubs vs. twitter) are important in helping reduce this stigma. 

Immigrants in Rural Communities
Immigrants living in rural areas face even greater challenges. Often, they have to deal with the language barrier in accessing care. Additionally, those immigrants who are undocumented are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. In 2016, a hospital in rural Kansas, invested in meeting the needs of those in the community conducted a survey inquiring about what services the community wanted to see. Results showed that Latino community members wanted better mental and behavioral health services, thus the hospital system is working to integrate mental health services into primary care. Additionally, many immigrants have a history of trauma, making it even more important for them to have easy access to mental health services and for providers to be aware of the unique concerns of this population. Learn more about immigrants living in rural communities here

Children in Rural Communities
One in seven children aged 2 to 8 has a mental or behavioral health problem or developmental disability. In rural areas, parents of children suffering from mental health problems more often report struggling to get by on their family’s income, poor or fair personal mental health, and lack of access to important research than do parents living in urban areas. Learn what's needed to help promote mental health in children living in rural communities. 

The Opioid Epidemic in Rural Communities
The opioid epidemic is disproportionately effecting individuals living in rural communities. In fact, 74% of farmers and farm workers report feeling a direct impact of the opioid crisis in their community. Those living in rural communities face challenges in getting appropriate, accessible, and affordable services, treatment and support. A majority of Americans feel that education about appropriate resources and reducing the stigma associated with addiction are effective means of combatting the opioid epidemic.