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Rural America Is Facing A Dire Shortage Of Mental Health Professionals

There is a desperate need for psychologists and psychiatrists in rural America, but according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a majority of rural counties do not have easy access to them.

Researchers from multiple organizations, collaborating to determine the level of mental health care people from rural counties are getting, discovered that 65 percent of these areas do not have a psychiatrist, while 47 percent, or almost half, of these counties do not have a psychologist.

According to CNN, the scarcity of available mental health professionals in rural America is forcing people to consider mental health care as a “last resort instead of a preventative measure or an ongoing program of therapy.”

“People in rural communities have limited access to the diversity of care they may need. There are very few services offered and people have to travel to reach them,” explains Jackson Rainer, a rural-based clinical psychologist, to CNN. “Typically, the first closest providers are generalists, and there is very little specialized care. There is no community (public) mental health care, and often there are no relevant hospital services within a reasonable distance. So, people are just left on their own.”

Other factors further complicate mental health accessibility in rural areas. State borders, for example, disallow psychologists and psychiatrists from practicing in neighboring states even if their clinics are located just miles from the state line. Funding for health care also hurt mental health access of rural Americans. Between 2010 and 2017, 80 rural hospitals have been closed and hundreds more are in danger of being defunded.

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In 2016, Syrena Clark, from rural Maine, who herself suffers from schizophrenia, wrote an alarming piece on Vice on the struggles of countryside Americans with regard to mental health access. She interviewed Paul Mackie, who was then president of the National Association for Rural Mental Health Care.

“In rural areas, too often there are too few providers to allow for the ‘luxury’ of seeking out the services of a specialist—they simply don’t exist,” Mackie told Clark. “Depending on how ‘rural’ one is geographically, access to care and services range from acceptable to nearly impossible. The last I understood, approximately 90 percent of all psychologists and psychiatrists and 80 percent of clinical social workers are located in urban locations.”

Citing a 2009 report from the Center for Rural Studies, Clark also writes that the rate of mental illness in rural America is astoundingly higher than in urban areas of the country. This condition is exacerbated by chronic “isolation and poverty” in the countryside.

The Rural Health Information Hub reports that as of 2016, 18.7 percent of those who live in rural areas — an estimated 6.5 million — have a form of mental illness.

[Photo by specphotops on Unsplash]

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