Mental health stigma is defined as both self-stigma and public stigma. Self-stigma is fear or embarrassment related to seeking out mental healthcare due to internal beliefs, and public stigma is negative judgment related to an individual's mental health condition from community members, family, providers, and friends.
When implementing rural mental health programs, community members should consider how stigma may impact access and use of mental health services.
One solution is to launch public health campaigns in rural areas with individuals who represent rural communities. By creating a campaign around individuals that rural community members identify with, community members are more likely to listen and internalize campaign messaging. Highlighting the importance of mental healthcare and the prevalence of mental health diagnoses in rural communities through public health campaigns can be an effective means of normalizing mental health treatment.
Another option to address rural mental health stigma is to create integrated health systems. This may be especially useful for older adults in rural areas. Tim Randall, a family medical provider stated in an article from Health Progress that,
“The elderly, in particular, are more comfortable being treated in a primary care setting due to the social stigmas and perceptions associated with behavioral health treatment.”
This is especially relevant for rural communities because rural populations are aging. By treating mental health conditions in integrated care settings, community members, including older adults and others who may experience stigma, may be more willing to seek treatment.
Providing care in a primary care setting or other outpatient setting may create a more comfortable and accessible care environment for individuals who struggle with public stigma and self-stigma. Patients may be more willing to seek out mental healthcare in a hospital or primary care setting because this environment may feel more anonymous to the patient.
Resources to Learn More
Mental Health Month
Provides information about an annual public awareness campaign, help each May, designed to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health conditions.
Organization(s): National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)
Services Integration Toolkit: Primary Care Behavioral Health Model
Describes integrated primary care and behavioral health models – provides examples of various models, considerations, and other resources.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub