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Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in Rural Communities

The challenges people who live in rural communities are vastly different than those who live in urban areas. What is gained in wide, open spaces is traded for convenience. Trips to the grocery store take more planning and walking or taking public transportation is often not an option. More significant, access to medical services — including mental health care — may be sparse or non-existent.  

According to Rural Health Information Hub, there is a chronic shortage of medical health professionals in rural areas, and mental health providers are more likely to practice in urban areas. That’s troubling, considering that in 2021 almost 23% of adults in nonmetropolitan areas reported having a mental illness. 

Stigmas exist in every community, but they can show up in different ways in different communities,” said Jill Kluesner, a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) National Trainer. “Research suggests that people with mental health challenges in rural communities may hold more negative attitudes and beliefs about individuals with mental health challenges in general, and they may believe that others may think less of someone with a mental health challenge (referred to as public stigma), too.” 

MHFA is addressing negative stigma and lack of access to care by offering MHFA for Rural Communities, a community-specific course for people who live in nonmetropolitan areas.  

Because rural communities face significant challenges in accessing mental health care, this course allows adults to acknowledge and begin to address those disparities, and to identify the many unique strengths that come from living in a community of supportive neighbors, friends and families. 

Although the standard MHFA course can be made relevant to rural communities by bringing in examples and statistics, MHFA for Rural Communities captures lived experiences of individuals in those communities,” Kluesner said. “For example, through customizable scenarios, images in the slide deck and data, the conversation regarding mental health challenges, mental health care and mental health literacy can be more nuanced and relevant.” 

One strength of rural communities is the support people offer one another. The more neighbors and friends become certified in MHFA, the better chance at reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use challenges. 

“Rural communities have had to be creative to navigate stigma, barriers and gaps in treatment — and have responded with community care,” said Kluesner. “Individuals wanting to support their community, increase mental health literacy and reduce stigma should take MHFA, because taking a course can be an act of community support.” 

It’s important to recognize the different cultures and communities that experience mental health challenges, including those who live outside the city limits, and provide support and hope for those who may need it but don’t have easy access. 

#BeTheDifference to the rural community by getting certified as a Mental Health First Aider or Instructor in MHFA for Rural Communities 



Mental Health First Aid. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA. National Council for Behavioral Health d/b/a National Council for Mental Wellbeing. 

Rural Health Information Hub. (n.d.) Rural mental health. 

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