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Rural Health Information Hub

Mental Health Stigma in Rural Communities

Mental health stigma is the fear or embarrassment experienced when seeking out mental healthcare due to concerns about negative perceptions from community members, family, providers, and friends. In rural communities, stigma can prevent individuals from seeking the help they need. In small, close-knit rural communities, individuals experiencing a mental health condition may delay receiving care due to the fear of feeling shame or embarrassment if there are stigmatizing beliefs around mental health in the community. In addition, rural communities commonly foster a culture of self-reliance, which can increase stigma related to seeking help for a mental health concern.

Due to the stigma associated with mental health conditions, people often desire privacy and anonymity when seeking treatment. Ensuring privacy can be particularly challenging in rural communities due to the small population size and fewer locations to receive care. For example, individuals may fear being seen walking into a mental health clinic or may be reluctant to seek help if local providers are friends or associates.

Rural mental health programs may consider addressing stigma by offering services, like telehealth visits, that can reduce the potential for stigma-related barriers to care by permitting patients to access care from the privacy of their own homes. Mental health education and public awareness campaigns in rural schools and communities can help reduce stigma and offer opportunities for people to share stories about their own mental health. Mental health literacy refers to people's knowledge of and beliefs about mental health disorders which can influence when and how they seek treatment. Programs like Mental Health First Aid training can increase mental health literacy and reduce stigma by helping community members recognize mental health conditions and identify coping strategies.