Hiring Peer Support Counselors: A Bold Innovation to Enhance Access to Mental Healthcare in Rural America

Rural America has a higher proportion of people who are at risk for mental health disorders and State Offices of Rural Health have identified suicide, depression, anxiety disorders and lack of access to mental  healthcare, as major rural health issues.   A particularly sobering statistic is that suicide is the second leading cause of death in states with primarily rural populations.There is a shortage of mental health professionals practicing in rural areas so rural populations face significant disparities in accessing care, especially with regards to the provision of highly specialized services.

Rural American Baroque by Ralph Steiner/via Yale Digital Commons

Rural American Baroque by Ralph Steiner/via Yale Digital Commons

Add to this the fact that rural culture, itself, places emphasis on self reliance, independence and conformity to social norms (whether positive or negative toward mental health treatments) and we have a situation that is ripe for the delayed identification of mental health problems and subsequent utilization of mental health services.

Whilst telehealth and other technological interventions are being utilized as a successful strategy to address some of these issues, geographical inequities in the availability and distribution of mental health professionals are unlikely to change in the near future and there remains a pressing need for innovative ways to enhance access to mental healthcare in rural America.

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