According to recent research, mental health in America is a greater problem in rural than in urban areas. Take older adults for example. Anywhere between 10-25% of the elderly in rural areas is afflicted by mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression.
But the problem is not just the higher frequency of mental illness. It is exacerbated by the fact that many of these people opt not to seek treatment and instead suffer in silence. The question is why?
It was revealed in a recent study conducted by researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine which involved nearly 500 adults 60 and above in rural North Carolina that the most common barrier to receiving necessary help was the shame- the conviction that “I shouldn’t need help.”
Stigma, which most understand to mean that there is something shameful, is often felt more acutely in rural communities due to the built-in lack of anonymity. Whereas in the city no one has a clue when someone is going for help, in the town just about everyone knows whose car is parked outside of the therapist’s office.
Compounding the stigma and the shame is often the lack of mental health education available to those in rural areas. Ignorance of what mental health problems are and what they are not combined with generational prejudices and the hype in the media regarding violent acts allegedly stemming from mental health problems, prove to be a potent mix that only increases the shame.
To make things worse, even when the stigma can be surmounted, is there anyone to go to for help? And even if services can be found, they are often too limited to be of any real consequence. The likelihood of finding a mental health professional in the community trained to deal with many of the problems found there is at times quite small.
Unfortunately, there are mental health practitioners in rural areas treating people, both children and adults, that lack adequate training. Aside from attending a weekend seminar or perhaps watching some YouTube videos online, they have no formal academic training that has prepared them for the types of problems they will face.
Part of the answer may lay in encouraging students in Rural America to pursue the field of Mental Health as a career. Getting more rural practitioners begins with laying the groundwork to captivate more of the youth. Combining their experiences and innate sensitivities regarding Rural America could prove to be a powerful combination.
But there may be a simpler solution. Remote mental health therapy known as teletherapy holds excellent promise for Rural America. Cutting edge technology has provided the means to have top-quality therapists living in large metropolitan areas to deliver state of the art mental health therapy to those in rural areas which is both convenient and affordable and could do much to ameliorate the shame.
A Call to Action
There are no quick fixes to solving the problems and challenges facing rural communities regarding mental health. Some of these problems are indigenous to growing mental health crisis in the nation as a whole while others are borne of the complexities germane to Rural America.
But one thing is sure. We can no longer close our eyes and hope the problems will somehow magically disappear. Until we accept the reality, become more resourceful, and remain steadfastly determined nothing much will change, and those who are so much in need will continue to suffer, often in silence.