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Shedding Light on Rural Mental Health

15% of all Americans live in rural areas—where rates of depression are high, healthcare options are low, and the barriers to mental health treatment may sometimes feel insurmountable.

By the Numbers

  • 1 in 5 22.7% adults in nonmetro areas report living with a mental illness.
  • 65% Across the U.S., 65% of rural counties do not have a single psychiatrist.
  • 48% In rural areas, less than half of U.S. adults with mental illnesses receive treatment.
  • 2x The suicide rate in U.S. rural areas is nearly double that of urban areas.

The 4 As: Obstacles to Mental Health Care in Rural Communities

The National Rural Health Association has identified these major obstacles to seeking and obtaining mental health care for those living in rural communities:

  • Availability

    Because of staffing shortages, rural communities have fewer mental health providers available to serve the population. And because nearly a third of rural residents lack internet at home, telehealth availability is restricted as well.

  • Accessibility

    Rural residents are less likely to have received information about when and where to obtain mental health care. They must also travel further to access care (on average, their nearest hospital is twice as far), and they have fewer public transportation options.

  • Affordability

    Rural areas have a 13.3% uninsured rate (vs. 10.8% rate in metropolitan areas), and may therefore be less likely to access benefits and afford treatment costs.

  • Acceptability

    In smaller, tight-knit communities, rural residents may be wary of the stigma that often accompanies the need for mental health treatment. Having fewer provider choices may also contribute to concerns about privacy.

Substance Misuse in Rural Communities

With mental health care being hard to obtain, it’s common for those in rural areas to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. But addiction treatment services can also be difficult to access, compounding the existing problem.

  • 13% of adults in nonmetropolitan areas experienced a substance use disorder in 2020.
  • Adults in rural areas report higher rates of heavy drinking and binge drinking.
  • Rates of methamphetamine use among adults in nonmetro areas are nearly double the rates in large metro areas.

Taking Care of Your Mental Wellness

Your mental state depends on many factors, but you can start taking charge of it by focusing on those you can control.

  • Reach out.

    Social isolation contributes to poor mental health and suicidality. Make an effort to stay in touch with friends and relatives as much as possible.

  • Stay current on health screenings.

    A healthcare provider can offer mental health resources, referrals, and next steps, should you need them.

  • Take care of your body.

    Eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep (7–9 hours each night), and getting regular exercise are crucial for managing stress.

  • Explore your options.

    Even if you don’t have high-speed internet access, you may be able to access telehealth services via text or phone.

Your health is worth it, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself when needed.

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