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Rural Health Information Hub

Diverse Treatment Options

Rural communities face unique challenges when addressing mental health, including lack of accessibility to transportation services, stigma toward mental healthcare, and limited access to healthy food choices. Mental health treatment is not a one-size-fit-all process. Individuals have unique needs that should be addressed when implementing mental health programs. Rural communities will especially need to think of innovative ways to provide various treatment options for their residents.

Overall Wellness

Incorporating wellness programming should be a priority when implementing mental health programs because nutrition, exercise, stress management, and tobacco cessation play a crucial role in preventing mental health problems and maintaining stability in individuals with a mental health condition. Additionally, many people with mental health conditions also experience co-occurring physical health problems and chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. The mental health condition may precede the physical health problem, or vice versa. Either way, it is important to focus on the well-being of the entire patient when treating mental health conditions.

The Harvard Health Blog discusses the importance of nutrition for mental health by explaining that eating unhealthy foods, such as refined sugars, can have negative effects on brain functioning, affecting things like the regulation of insulin and mood disorders.

Exercise is also an important part of wellness and should be considered when implementing mental health programs in rural areas. In some cases, exercise can lead to short-term relief and long-term stabilization of mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Physical activity opportunities can be difficult to access for individuals living in rural areas. However, because exercise helps improve and alleviate mental health symptoms, it is important for community members to consider exercise programs when implementing mental health programs. This may be as simple as daily walking routines.


Technology is important to consider when implementing mental health programs, especially in rural areas. Telehealth programs, including mobile technology or mHealth, can be used to increase rural residents' access to mental healthcare, especially when there is a mental health provider shortage.

There are also a growing number of online counseling resources, which may be well-suited for rural residents who do not have access to transportation or a clinic. With these resources, mental health professionals can provide services for patients via email, video conferencing, virtual reality, chat technology, or a mixture of these. Given barriers that rural communities face in accessing technology and online connectivity, these resources may not be accessible for all rural residents. Additionally, online therapy may not be appropriate for all patients or all types of mental health conditions.

Various Types of Therapy

When mental health programs are implemented in rural areas, it is important that various types of therapy are offered in order to best meet the needs of all rural residents. Given providers shortages in rural areas, not all of these will be available to all rural residents, however. Some examples of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
    • Used as a therapy strategy to change unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns
    • Mental health providers trained in CBT can equip patients with tools to recognize maladaptive thinking and behavior patterns and change these patterns in order to improve overall health and well-being
    • Techniques may include motivational interviewing to help people recognize and work toward their goals
  • Art therapy
    A therapy that incorporates art, creativity, and expression as healing strategies for patients
  • Music therapy
    This therapy uses music as a tool for healing and processing through: music making, listening, singing, and dance.


Another lifestyle treatment option is mindfulness meditation, which can take the form of still meditation or meditation through movement such as yoga. Yoga may relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression for some individuals.


Prescription medications can be helpful for individuals with a mental health condition. The National Institute of Mental Health outlines various examples of prescription medications including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and antipsychotics. Medication may come in various forms, including pills, injections, or patches. Rural areas face barriers in accessing pharmacy services, including transportation barriers and recent pharmacy closures. Rural areas also have workforce shortages that make it difficult to access psychiatrists and other professionals who can prescribe medication and evaluate its usefulness for individual patients. Choosing the most appropriate prescription should involve assessing the effectiveness, availability, and affordability of the medication. In rural areas, some barriers to pharmacy access may be overcome by using mail-order or internet services or by using long-acting medications. However, prescription medications should only be taken when prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner.

Before implementing mental health programming, rural communities should consider the various ways that they can address and improve the mental health of their residents and make a plan for implementing a wide range of programs.

Resources to Learn More

The Link Between Food and Mental Health
Outlines how nutrition can impact mental health.
Author(s): Clay, R.A.
Organization(s): American Psychological Association
Citation: APA Monitor on Psychology, 48(8), 26
Date: 9/2017

Mental Health Medications
Highlights the various forms of mental health medications.
Organization(s): National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)