Truth be told, there are a number of barriers to mental health services in rural communities throughout the United States. The question is, why?
Rural America's Mental Health Care Shortage
6.5 million people in rural America experience a mental health condition. However, rural communities are sparsely populated and far from urban areas - where most services are located. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 60% of rural Americans live in mental health professional shortage areas. Many healthcare workers in these regions have to play multiple roles and provide some form of mental health treatment to residents.
Moreover, 56.5% of rural citizens were exposed to some form of adverse childhood experience (ACE) from 2011-2013. The more ACE, the higher the risk for mental health conditions in adulthood. Understanding why mental health services and tools are not as readily available in rural communities is crucial to create change. Below are more reasons rural youth and adults receive fewer treatment options than those in urban areas.
- Affordability of healthcare
- Transportation to services
- Shortage of culturally competent care
- Availability of the latest technology
- Lack of knowledge
- Cultural stigma
Eliminating the Barriers
Mental health tools should be accessible for everyone and everywhere, whether in school settings, juvenile or criminal courts, child protective services, or even online. Mental Health America acknowledges in a 2020 report that youth mental health is worsening; “9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s dataset.”
With the mental health crisis formed from the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan was created to not only help with COVID-19 vaccines and relief for citizens but also to create more mental health services throughout the nation, including rural communities. The bill will have rural development grants for healthcare - with a $500 million allocation focus on particular spending on mental health services, and increase telehealth capabilities.
A Mental Health Solution
Evidence-based programs like Multisystemic Therapy (MST), an intervention designed to address mental health issues, behavioral concerns, including substance abuse and school-related problems, family relations, community engagement, and other aspects of a young person’s ecosystem, are a great start to helping youth thrive in the future. To avoid the barriers of outpatient services, MST therapists travel to the home of the adolescent, using tailored individualized treatment interventions for the entire family and the systems that surround them. These interventions focus on creating a strong support system for the teen—strengthening household bonds, empowering caretakers, assessing and addressing the impact of peer, school, and community relationships, and developing treatment strategies alongside the family.
Although getting more mental health tools in the hands of rural areas is still progressing, so is the number of teens struggling with their well-being. Behavioral health organizations, mental health agencies, and government officials must work together to provide services that better serve youth, specifically in this needed time.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an evidence-based program for at-risk youth and families. MST utilizes a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Services include but are not limited to: social skills training, drug and alcohol intervention, mental health services, and peer management.