Open up about barriers rural residents face in getting help for mental health
Urban or rural, we’re similar in mental health suffering and stigmas. The difference is, those of us in non-urban areas need to overcome three additional challenges in areas of mental health.
We’re tight-lipped in farm country. Suffering in silence seems to be the way we were taught. But I think we need to acknowledge and address our problems. Oct. 10 was World Mental Health Day and gave me a nudge. It’s OK to acknowledge we’re not OK. Write it down on a health questionnaire. Say it to your medical provider. Be honest and give voice to your mental health, not only for yourself but for those who love you, who need you.
Urban or rural, we’re similar in mental health suffering and stigmas. The difference is, those of us in non-urban areas need to overcome three additional challenges in areas of mental health. According to Rural Health Information Hub , those challenges include:
- Accessibility: “Rural residents often travel long distances to receive services, are less likely to be insured for mental health services, and are less likely to recognize an illness” RHIhub says. Personally, I am insured but if I am attending an appointment, I will take off two to four hours from work to attend. There have been instances I’ve taken a full day off for a 200-mile round trip drive to a counselor appointment. Not all rural residents can swing that schedule. Telehealth options expanded through the pandemic. I hope telemedicine continues to increase mental health accessibility.
- Availability: I love rural health clinics and supporting them for routine healthcare. However, I currently have no options for mental health support in a rural health clinic. According to RHIhub, “Chronic shortages of mental health professionals exist and mental health providers are more likely to practice in urban centers.” I called for a new appointment with a professional I had seen years ago and was told they were booking six to one-year out for new appointments. First, I felt empathy for the person having to answer the phone and schedule appointments. Next I thought of those in the mental health service industry not having the ability to connect with all who want to see them. We need more experts. I still want to see that professional, in-person. I will wait for her appointment. I also will see a different professional by video sooner.
- Acceptability: The first time I wrote about mental health in this column, I received feedback from a person who felt they knew me enough in real life to comment and say I didn’t really know mental health struggles or the reality of the impacts of mental illness on a family. She was wrong. I don’t usually let the haters or negative feedback stick but that one did for a bit. Then, along came a person who shared an in-person thank you for speaking out on mental health. Do not let the lack of acceptance from anyone hold you back from seeking professional help for your mental health. “The stigma of needing or receiving mental healthcare and fewer choices of trained professionals who work in rural areas create barriers to care,” RHIhub says. We can break down barriers by saying it's OK to seek mental health help for you or your loved ones.
All of us are affected by mental health struggles. If you’re not one experiencing mental health obstacles or severe mental illness, you know someone who is. Add in a global health pandemic and we’re more isolated right now than we were two years ago. Do not stay silent about mental health or severe mental illness. If someone confides in you, help them get connected to professional help. Listen more than talk. Showing up with your presence is a difference-maker.
You are not alone. You are needed. You are loved. Your presence is a critical part of someone’s community. I purposefully decided I won’t allow myself to be swallowed up in the waves of anguish I feel at times. I fight it with a network of support. I also know healthy lifestyle choices, routine exercise, fresh air, quiet time in my faith, and doing a few things for myself that I enjoy positively impact my mental health.
Taking care of our mental health is equally important to taking care of our physical health. Let’s start by overcoming rural mental health barriers of availability, accessibility and acceptability by seeking the help needed, no matter the drive-time, appointment wait time or stigma barriers we need to bust.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.