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How to Improve Mental Health Support in Rural Areas

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The importance of mental health has begun to gain more of a spotlight in recent decades. In the past, stigmas around mental health encouraged many struggling individuals to shy away from getting the help they need. Thankfully, this has begun to change and attitudes around mental health are shifting, which has resulted in more resources becoming available to those who need them. Unfortunately, rural areas are not experiencing the same influx of mental health resources as their urban counterparts. 

Rural areas in the US typically have higher rates of individuals suffering from mental health illnesses such as depression and, in some cases, even higher rates of suicide. This being the case, rural areas are in dire need of improvements in the area of mental health support. 

Understanding some of the ways that the mental health status of rural residents can be improved can give one a more nuanced understanding of the current state of mental health in the US. Here are some ways to improve mental health support in rural areas. 

Increasing digital mental health resources

One of the biggest barriers to rural residents receiving the mental health care that they need is a lack of accessibility. This is largely because of shortages of medical professionals and a lack of medical facilities due to hospital closures in rural areas. This lack of resources makes it more difficult for residents in these areas to reach out to medical professionals when they experience mental health issues. 

One way to effectively combat this lack of accessibility to mental health resources is to create and spread access to digital mental health resources that can be accessed from one’s home. This can come in the form of video calls, messages, or even just phone calls. 

By doing this, more rural residents will likely reach out to professionals before mental health issues become too severe or possibly even result in self-harm. 

Increasing the autonomy of nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners are advanced nurses trained to act in the capacity of physicians in various situations. While many states have made it legal for nurse practitioners to practice independently, many have been slow to allow this seemingly positive shift to take hold. 

While primary care physicians are not the mental health specialists that everyone needs to see, they may be able to detect signs of mental health problems earlier and connect rural residents with the resources that they need. 

The lack of doctors in rural areas has resulted in a population that doesn’t make it a priority to go see doctors. As such, there are fewer opportunities for medical professionals to evaluate these individuals and catch early signs of mental illness. By giving nurse practitioners more power in more states, the population in rural areas would likely experience an increase in mental diagnosis and become more frequently connected with the mental health resources that they need. 

Health education

In many rural areas, many extremely unhealthy habits such as smoking cigarettes and consistently ingesting unhealthy food are commonplace. This essentially has to do with the fact that many of these individuals have not been educated about healthy habits. As such, there have been significant efforts in recent times to increase healthcare in rural areas

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about mental health. Many residents in rural areas are unaware of the signs to look out for in both themselves and others, making people less likely to seek help for mental health issues. 

In addition to a lack of health education, a strong stigma around mental health may also be a factor that inhibits individuals from reaching out for help with mental health problems. By prioritising health education, especially around mental health, this stigma would likely become less potent of a barrier between rural residents and mental health professionals. 

As such, creating programmes to educate those in rural areas about mental health could have a significantly positive impact on how willing rural residents are to seek out and receive mental health support. 

Prioritising mental health in rural areas

Mental health support is an area that has largely been ignored in rural areas. This disheartening fact has resulted in many rural residents experiencing an increased amount of mental health problems as a result of being unable or unwilling to seek out mental health professionals or other mental health resources. Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to change this. 

By making an effort to implement new practices in rural areas, more support can be given to the rural residents in need of mental health resources.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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