Column: Expansion of rural mental health services can’t come soon enough

The School of Nursing’s efforts to expand care in underrepresented areas are crucial.

Kathryn Schultz

Last Thursday, I was excited to read the Minnesota Daily’s report about the School of Nursing’s plans to expand mental health services in rural parts of the state, using a $2.1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The grant will allow the Nursing School — partnered with the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Touchstone Mental Health and Northern Pines Mental Health Center — to “train students and provide mental health and primary care to rural areas of the state and those with limited access.”

As someone who grew up in rural Minnesota, I commend the School of Nursing’s efforts. Throughout high school, I dealt with undiagnosed depression and anxiety on my own. When I came to the University of Minnesota, I encountered the approachable mental health resources that Boynton Health has to offer, which have been extremely valuable.

Back in my rural hometown, mental health was rarely talked about, and I didn’t know how to get help. The only resource I was aware of was my school counselor, but I was under the impression that since I wasn’t going through any sort of specific trauma, I just had to deal with it on my own. After moving to an urban area, I’ve realized that being exposed to an environment where mental health is addressed and resources are available is eye-opening and a huge relief.

Sixty percent of rural Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, a 2001 study from the National Center for Health Statistics suggested that there are higher rates of suicide in rural areas. Rural Americans have a strong need for adequate mental healthcare — they just aren’t getting it.

In my experience, living in a rural area made it easy to feel isolated and alienated, which can have a strong effect on mental health.

Additionally, rural Americans’ salaries are an average of 32 percent lower than that of their urban counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Stress related to money can be a factor in depression, and can of course make it hard to afford care for mental health. Rural Americans are also less likely than urban Americans to have insurance that covers mental or behavioral health services, according to a 2006 study by the National Association of Rural Mental Health.

What’s more, one in five adults in the United States experience some sort of mental illness, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Americans in rural areas are obviously not impervious to this statistic, and deserve adequate support for their mental illnesses.

A lot of factors come into play in the healthcare gap between rural and urban America, but the School of Nursing’s efforts are a good start in working to rectify the issue.