Rural Mental Health

Rural CommunityBoth physical and mental health disparities 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 with 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. 

Although mental health providers are in short supply everywhere, specialists are even more rare in rural areas and often only come to the area once in a while. For those living in rural areas, long travel times to mental health providers and a lack of culturally competent providers create additional barriers to care.

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 not seeking mental health services is the belief that they “should not need help.” Lack of anonymity may add to the impact of stigma for those living in small, rural towns. 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 senior citizens or grocery shopping for the 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 wellbeing 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.

Immigrants in rural communities

Immigrants living in rural areas face a variety of 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 behavioral health services, thus the hospital system is working to integrate mental health services into primary care.

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 report struggling to get by on their family’s income, poor or fair personal mental health, and lack of access to important research more often than 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 affecting 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.