Mental Health Neglected in Rural Areas
Mental illness, long considered an "urban problem,"
goes largely undetected and untreated in rural America, according to U.S. News and World Report. Although studies suggest that the "overall prevalence" of mental illness is about equal in rural and urban areas, 95% of the nation's rural counties do not have access to a psychiatrist and 68% do not have access to a psychologist, and 78% lack social workers. According to the federal Center for Mental Health Services about eight million Americans lack "ready access" to mental health professionals. U.S. News reports that many rural residents may feel "stigmatized" by mental illness. And the diversity of rural America compounds the problem: a solution that could work in the South, for example, might not necessarily be effective in the Great Plains.
One possible solution being considered to address the problem of rural mental health care would be to combine primary care with mental health care. In the absence of dedicated mental health resources, mental health care often falls on primary care physicians already. Such a plan "makes particular sense" in small-town settings, as many residents "tend to know one another and may not want to be seen parking in front of a mental health clinic," U.S. News points out. Another option gaining popularity in the southern United States is integrating mental health care with churches.
The Southeastern Rural Mental Health Research Center at the University of Virginia found that many rural Southerners, especially African Americans, would be "more likely" to accept mental health care through their churches. Advocates say they would like to see more resources dedicated to rural mental health care, but worry that their concerns will go unheard in Washington. "People in policymaking positions are less and less likely to have any real sense of what rural America is like," according to Peter Beeson, president of the National Association for Rural Mental Health (Olsson, U.S. News and World Report, 11/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.