Is Teletherapy for Rural Schools and Suicide Connected?

While most of us automatically associate stress and tension with living in a big city, the surprising truth is that the youth suicide rate is significantly higher in Rural America according to a troubling new report published in Jama Pediatrics. And it’s climbing!

The research shows that the adolescent and young-adult suicide rate in the U.S. 1996-2010 was double in rural areas as compared to urban areas. Investigators, analyzing 67,000 deaths, found the rate of suicide for both males and females alike living in rural areas was about double the rate in cities.


Perhaps blame can be assigned to the preponderance of gun ownership in rural areas. That over 50% of the deaths were with guns, coupled with the higher percentage of gun ownership in rural areas, may suggest that guns are the culprit. Maybe educating parents how to “keep the guns safe” could stem and possibly reverse the tide.

But it’s not so simple!

Lack of Awareness

Since the understanding of mental health issues in rural areas is subpar, many potential dangerous conditions such as depression tend to be under-diagnosed.  Consequently, parents and teachers often miss the warning signs that could prevent tragedy. Creating greater awareness and understanding is an imperative.


Interestingly, the “Rural Personality,” which is based upon strength and self-reliance, a source of pride, may be preventing those in need from seeking help for their mental health problems.  The stigma of “weakness” may serve as a hurdle too difficult to surmount, even when qualified therapists are available.


And then there is the lack of anonymity which is part and parcel of living in a small town.The close-knit community, with all that it has to offer, actually may be undermining its constituency from finding the help they so desperately need due to the shame it would entail.


But let’s get to the core of the problem: how are the youth in Rural America are unique?  Since those in rural areas tend to live much further apart, their wholesome face-to-face interaction with others and participation in social networks is more limited. Social isolation can often foster loneliness and depression, sometimes with fatal consequences.

What’s more, although it was nearly a century ago, the Great Recession took its most significant toll on Rural America. As a result, even today, those living in rural communities are more likely to have lower incomes in general, and adequate health insurance that provides mental health services in particular.

Unfortunately, a weaker economy providing fewer jobs means that a greater percentage of the youth who were raised in Rural America leave their communities for higher ground, seeking employment in metropolitan areas where there are greater opportunities.  This, of course, only serves to heighten the loneliness of their peers whom they leave behind.


Perhaps the most tragic problem (and most solvable with teletherapy for rural schools) is the lack of mental health professionals. In fact, more than 85% of the mental health therapist shortage is in rural areas. Over half of rural counties don’t have any mental health professional at all.

Consequently, those in rural communities seeking professional mental health care must drive far distances to find it when teletherapy for rural schools is unavailable. This can be a serious deterrent, delaying necessary care, or worse, postponing professional intervention until the problem has become exacerbated, and perhaps out of control.

Teletherapy for Rural Schools to the Rescue

Teletherapy for rural schools: the innovative model of connecting a client to a therapist through video conferencing through GoToMeeting or Skype holds great promise to help relieve this deplorable situation.  Hopefully, as teletherapy continues to grow, relief for the suffering youth will be more available, and we’ll see those suicide rates plummet quickly!