Rural Mental Health Care Deficit Alarming

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. However, over half of the counties in the United States have no mental health professionals, a situation that has changed little in 45 years. Mental health and behavioral health issues take from 20 to 25 percent of primary care physician's workload, taxing an already stressed rural health care system. Research has shown that patients who receive specialized mental health care are much more likely to receive adequate treatment than those receiving general medical care. Unfortunately, the conclusion that rural individuals receive poorer quality mental health care is unavoidable.
The lack of mental health professionals affects children as well. Part of the reason so many children were dropped off at Nebraska hospitals under the safe haven law was due to a lack of effective mental health services.

Public policy has done little to address major sources of this rural disparity--the need for mid-level professionals to provide mental health services and a marketplace for such services. Health care reform legislation can begin to address these disparities by providing incentives and reimbursement mechanisms for mid-level mental health providers (providers at the Bachelor's and Master's degree level) in rural areas and by providing resources for a specialty mental health marketplace similar to what exists for rural medical clinics.

In the coming weeks the Center for Rural Affairs will release a report titled "Mental Health in Rural America" which will look at the issue more in depth.

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