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Defining Mental Health in Rural Communities

According to the World Health Organization,

“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Mental health conditions impact 1 out of 5 adults in any given year. In the United States, over 90 million individuals live in Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (MHPSA), most of which are rural. These residents face treatment shortages at a far greater rate than those who reside in urban areas.

Some research suggests that nearly half of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental health condition in their lifetime, which can affect relationships at home, work, and within their community. Common mental health conditions can include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorders, mood disorders, etc.)
  • Mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.)
  • Psychotic disorders (schizophrenia)

These conditions affect daily activities and relationships for individuals and families involved. Mental health conditions comprise a broad umbrella of disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they are considered serious mental illnesses (SMI) when they cause:

“serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”

Mental health conditions require timely and appropriate treatment. Untreated conditions can result in:

Long-term mental illness has also been associated with:

  • Shorter lifespan
  • Increased co-occurrence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, cancer, and cardiovascular disease

In total earnings, the United States loses an estimated $193.2 billion every year due to mental health conditions.

Mental health conditions are prevalent in rural America: 22.7% of individuals living in nonmetropolitan areas have a mental health condition, which is about 8.5 million persons. Rural residents are also more likely than urban residents to experience a serious mental illness.

Resources to Learn More

Mental Health and Mental Disorders – A Rural Challenge: A Literature Review
Provides a summary of mental health conditions in rural communities. A chapter in Rural Health People 2010: A Companion Document to Healthy People 2010, Volume 1.
Author(s): Gamm, L., Stone, S., & Pittman, S.
Organization(s): Southwest Rural Health Research Center
Date: 1/2010

Office of Rural Mental Health Research (ORMHR)
Overview of the National Institute of Mental Health's Office of Rural Mental Health Research program, which provides grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements to conduct research on mental health in rural areas.
Organization(s): National Institute of Mental Health

Rural Behavioral Health
Provides links to several studies on rural mental and behavioral health, funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy.
Organization(s): Rural Health Research Gateway