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Rates for depression are higher in rural America than in urban areas, and suicide rates among people living in rural counties are 25% higher than those in major metropolitan areas.
Addressing mental illness is a significant challenge in rural America due to unique barriers that include 20% fewer primary care providers than in cities, in addition to:
- A lack of psychiatrists in 65% of rural counties;
- A lack of psychiatric nurse practitioners in 81% of rural counties; and
- A lack of access to broadband internet at home (four times more likely than it is for urban residents).
Over the past few years there has been a major movement to bring mental health in rural America to the forefront, including a new nonprofit, Rural Minds, to tackle this challenge. Rural Minds was started by New York dairy farmer Jeff Winton, after the suicide of his 28-year-old nephew.
“The family has a history of depression and mental illness, but he was the one that no one suspected was struggling with his mental health and therein lies the issue,” Winton said. He was interviewed for Our Ohio Weekly during Mental Health Awareness Month in May. “Living and growing up on a farm you are taught to be very independent and to not always talk about your issues and to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just get on with things. Unfortunately, there are many stories like my nephew’s out there.”
Aside from running the dairy just off Lake Erie, Winton has spent the bulk of his career in communications, both in agriculture and health care. He was well aware of the other national organizations that focus on mental health challenges and resources, but felt there was still a space for an organization that honed in on the needs of rural communities.
“This is a very important part of our society that isn’t necessarily being served in a manner that we all believe it should be, and that is why I started this organization,” Winton said. “We are only seven months into this, but we are very encouraged by the uptake and by the ability to hopefully impact change moving forward.”
In addition to providing rural Americans with efficient access to existing mental health services organizations, Winton created Rural Minds to address the importance of overcoming the stigma around mental health challenges.
“There is still a great deal of work to be done, but I have hope,” Winton said. “That hope comes from the younger generation that is much more willing and comfortable to talk about things like this than my generation is. That is where the change that is needed when it comes to breaking down the stigma and challenges of mental health will come from.”
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, call 800-273-8255 for 24/7 support. If this is a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
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