Blog /Mental Health Service Access in Rural Areas
I'm a city girl. I love the bright lights and skyscrapers. I love the bustle, like the hustle. But I have some rural roots. My maternal grandmother grew up on a farm in a quaint Mississippi town. Ever heard of Edwards, Miss.? What about Gilmer, Texas? That's where my paternal grandparents are from.
Recently I've been interested in rural areas, particularly how residents access mental health care. It began after listening to a great series on this issue from the Northwest News Network earlier this year. Attending "The Future of Rural Mental Health Services" workshop at Alternatives was a priority on my list.
The Frontier Leadership Network (FLN) hosted this workshop and I learned a lot. The census classifies counties into three categories: urban, rural, and frontier. Urban is a city of course. Rural is a population or territory outside of an urban area. Frontier counties have less than 15,000 people, said Rollin Shelton from FLN. Or as FLN President Theresa Bingham-Abbot explained, she defines frontier counties as those where you have to travel at least 100 miles before seeing a community or farmhouse.
Shelton shared that in Oregon, there's a mountain range that runs straight through the middle of the entire state called the Cascade Range. The range has a lot of land but roughly 500,000 people live there. About 60% of Oregon's 3.8million population lives in urban areas. But for a long time there was only one, ONE, peer-run org in the Cascade. The org was in the Western area. Rollin Shelton told us the FLN was formed to get a peer run org in the Eastern Cascade and build networks with people interested in mental health care and peer-run orgs. It wasn't easy. He applied for Statewide Consumer Network grants from SAHMSMA, asked for donations, and worked with counties to get support.
Georgia Osborn broke down how rural and frontier culture impacts access to mental health care. She lives in a town of 150 people. The closest grocery story is 31 miles away (I was thinking, that's a shopping trip where you need a list). Like the grocery store, access to mental health care can be just as far away even frather. Distance is a huge issue along with lack of public transportation to reach services. Which makes isolation another problem for someone in crisis. Often these communities are close-knit. Some communities may not be receptive to outsiders who want to inform people about mental health. Osborn also noted stigma in close communities. The rumor mill works quickly in these kind of areas. And if someone is suffering from a mental health challenge, they don't want the whole town in their personal business. Poverty is another factor too.
Here's where I'm thankful for internet technology. Theresa Bingham-Abbot shared how people in rural and frontier areas are using technology for their own wellness and build peer support:
Therapists use certain software to counsel people over the computer.
Peer support groups can host conference calls or online conference meetings.
Online Support Groups
Theresa warned that you have to be careful with these groups because some may "lead you astray" and not provide the best advice.
Similar to hotlines, just more comforting. People can call warmlines when they need someone to talk to.
Great for those who work in peer-run orgs and want to educate others on how they can serve their areas.
Theresa says they still send out fliers to spread the word about mental health and future FLN projects.
Peers hop in their cars and trucks and go to the people who need help.
I enjoyed this workshop and applaud what FLN and other peer groups in rural/frontier areas do. It's harder for them to get access to resources, but they know people out there need help and they're making sacrifices to reach others.