In order to treat the 47.6 million individuals experiencing mental illness each year, health systems must first identify one of the key factors contributing to this growing issue – location.1 Rural and urban communities experience unique challenges that often create substantial obstacles for health systems to provide, and community members to receive, proper behavioral health treatment.
Read this guide to discover the unique behavioral health challenges and opportunities in rural and urban communities and how health systems can work to expand access to these vital services.
Behavioral Health Challenges Within Rural Communities
Approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population lives in rural communities, and about one-fifth of those living in rural communities, or 6.5 million individuals, have a mental illness.2
Further, it is estimated that as many as 65% of rural counties do not have psychiatrists, and more than 60% of rural Americans live in designated mental health provider shortage areas.2 Between 2010 and 2019, rural hospitals faced amplified risks of closure and will continue to experience this unless specific issues are addressed.3
Additional obstacles restricting rural communities from obtaining proper behavioral health treatment include:
- Socioeconomic factors such as higher rates of unemployment and individuals living below the poverty line.
- Lack of public acceptance due to the negative stigma surrounding behavioral health treatment.
- Delayed public understanding due to lower education rates and restricted access to behavioral health resources limiting a person’s ability to recognize signs of mental illness and understand their care options.4
Although rural communities are faced with deeply rooted challenges, opportunities to combat these obstacles are available.
Steps to Improve Rural Access
Years of re-education, along with drastic spikes brought on by the pandemic, have led to a renewed interest in efforts to strengthen behavioral health integration among rural providers.
Tools that have positively impacted behavioral healthcare in rural communities, include:4
1. Implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs) to support clinical integration and communication;
2. Continued integration of educational resources and programs around behavioral health treatment;
3. Expanded use of technology to provide psychiatric support among other treatment options; and
4. Aid from an experienced partner dedicated to providing high-quality behavioral healthcare to benefit a community’s specific needs.
Through these tools, health systems can help ensure this vital form of care is easily accessible no matter one’s location.
Similar to rural community challenges, the urban demographic has its own hurdles to overcome in order to address the issue of behavioral health access.
Urban Community Obstacles
Today, more than 50% of the global population is living in cities, and by 2050 this rate is expected to increase to nearly 70%.5 As more individuals migrate to urban communities, the risk of developing a mental or behavioral health illness rises.
Additionally, whereas rural communities experience physical distance as an obstacle when seeking behavioral health treatment, urban communities run the risk of over-population. This leads to crowded emergency rooms (ERs) and mental health treatment centers – impeding an individual’s ability to receive high-quality services.
Although urban areas maintain a reputation of greater access to services and resources, disadvantaged individuals still struggle to obtain care due to financial and transportation limitations and the disproportionate availability of resources. However, there is a solution.
Urban Area Opportunities
By utilizing existing behavioral health services and elevating them to help ensure they are easily accessible to every individual in every neighborhood, health systems can address the challenges within urban landscapes.
Steps to improve access and education for behavioral healthcare include:
- Understanding neighborhood demographics that could impact access to critical behavioral healthcare.
- Providing quality resources through staff training and education around behavioral health, in addition to hiring qualified psychologists and therapists.
- Behavioral health education through the integration of behavioral health programming into a primary care setting.
Understanding the unique obstacles presented in both community settings allows health systems to identify proven strategies to meet the opportunity. However, many health systems today struggle to successfully integrate this service line independently – leading many to outsource to a trusted partner.
Advantages of Behavioral Health Partnership for Rural and Urban Community Success
Experts in the behavioral health space understand the specific challenges hindering accessibility and are well-equipped to handle the obstacles through a flexible strategy designed to address the unique needs of the community at hand.
Kindred Behavioral Health, a service line of Kindred Healthcare, is a leader in treating patients with mental health and substance use disorders through partnerships that integrate the latest innovative solutions – producing quality care and superior outcomes. Visit KindredBehavioralHealth.com for more information.
1. Mental health by the numbers. (2021). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/mhstats#:~:text=20.6%25%20of%20U.S.%20adults%20experienced,2019%20(13.1%20million%20people).
2. Morales, D. A., Barksdale, C. L., & Beckel-Mitchener, A. C. (2020, May 4). A call to action to address rural mental health disparities. Journal of clinical and translational science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7681156/.
3. Summers-Gabr, N. (2020, May). Rural–Urban Mental Health Disparities in the United States DuringCOVID-19. American Psychological Association. https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-38395-001.pdf
4. Gale, J. A., & Lambert, D. (2006, January 1). Mental Healthcare in Rural Communities: The Once and Future Role of Primary Care. North Carolina Medical Journal. https://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/67/1/66.
5. Gruebner, O., Rapp, M. A., Adli, M., Kluge, U., Galea, S., & Heinz, A. (2017, February 24). Cities and Mental Health. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5374256/
Kindred Behavioral Health partners with health systems across the country to expand access to behavioral health services and produce excellent outcomes.