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Rural Mental Health Is Lacking, but Mental Health First Aid Can Help

Before he turned his farmhouse into an inn open only on holidays, Jim Hardy (played by Bing Crosby in the 1942 classic film Holiday Inn) imagined a bucolic country life. But the reality of farming landed Jim in a “sanitarium.” Played for laughs in the movie, the stress of farming is all too real (“In occupation where stress is ample, farmers have few options for mental health care,” MPR News, January 16, 2018).

The vagaries of weather and crop prices have always plagued farmers, but today’s farmers are more likely to work alone and to have a greater risk of suicide than other professions. Moreover, said Ted Matthews, who has counseled farm families for decades, people in rural America “don’t hear mental health, they hear mental illnesses.”

Though the prevalence of mental health problems is largely the same in rural and urban areas, people who live in rural communities face unique challenges in accessing care for mental health problems. Chief among them, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) are:

  1. Accessibility: Rural Americans are less likely to be insured and more likely to travel long distances for help. They are less likely to recognize mental illnesses.
  2. Availability: More than 60 percent of rural Americans live in mental health professional shortage areas, and most psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers practice exclusively in urban areas.
  3. Acceptability: Few professionals are trained to work in rural areas, and the individuals they serve may have trouble acknowledging a mental health problem. Stigma is a powerful barrier to receiving help.

But rural Americans have strengths, as well, including close-knit family ties and a strong sense of community. Rural Mental Health First Aid builds on these strengths by increasing knowledge about mental health and substance use issues and decreasing negative perceptions. Rural Mental Health First Aid helps those living in rural communities do what they do best – helping their family members and friends #BeTheDifference by providing information, offering support and linking them to professional resources.

You can help enhance community capacity around behavioral health issues in rural areas by learning more about how to bring this course to your area. No one should have to live in silence ­– reach out today!

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