Mental Health Disparities in Rural America

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Mental Health Disparities in Rural America
Mental healthcare has a long and murky past in the United States. In the early 1900s, patients could live in institutions for many years. The treatments and conditions were, at times, inhumane. Legislation in the 1980s and 1990s created programs to protect this vulnerable population from abuse and discrimination. In the last 20 years, mental health advocacy groups and legislators have made gains in bringing attention to the disparity between physical and mental health programs. However, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses continues to be less than optimal. Mental health disparities continue to exist in all areas of the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 25% of people suffer from a mental illness and that 50% of people will develop one during their life ("Surveillance Report," 2011). Mental illness is also associated with “chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes” (Pederson et al., 2013, p. 695). Rural communities have higher rates of chronic illnesses, mental health issues and fewer providers thus making this population vulnerable to health disparities. The purpose of this paper is to explore mental illness in the rural community, ways to improve accessibility to care, and improve outcomes through the role of a rural nurse educator.
What is rural? On the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website the U.S. Census Bureau defines the word "rural" to mean “whatever is not urban” ("Defining the Rural Population," n.d, p. 1). The Census Bureau describes urban centers as populations of 50,000 or more and urban clusters ...

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...ducation material for patients, families, and educators of school age children. The information from this website is appropriate for school presentations. Both websites include a location finder for providers. All of these resources are helpful for educators, patients and families.
Mental health disparities in rural America will not magically disappear overnight, or even over a decade. The process will be slow and deliberate as long as there are advocates willing to keep pushing for change. Nurse educators can be advocates of decreasing stigma and discrimination of mental illness through educating their communities, families and patients. Additionally, nurse educators can be a driving force to institute technology driven mental health care services by collaborating with local health care organizations and other stakeholders (Smalley et al., 2010).

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that the u.s. census bureau defines "rural" as "whatever is not urban" and the office of rural health policy analyzes areas based on a coding system.
  • Explains that mental health disparities exist in rural communities for several reasons, including lack of trained providers, accessibility, and affordability. cohn and hastings cite professional role strain, lower salaries, limited peer interaction and rural dwellers perception of mental illness.
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