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Rural Health Information Hub

Mental Health Treatment Options

There are many different types of treatment options for people with mental health conditions. No single treatment will work for everyone. Before implementing a mental health program, rural communities should consider the range of needs of residents, determine which treatment options the program will offer, and make a plan for service delivery that meets the unique needs of the community. Mental health treatment typically includes a combination of therapy and medication and may also incorporate wellness approaches.

Therapy Options

There are many different types of therapy, including psychotherapy and other therapies, that rural planners can incorporate into a mental health program. However, because of provider shortages in rural areas, programs may be unable to make all options available.

Common types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy strategy that explores thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, with the goal of changing unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. Mental health providers trained in CBT can empower patients with the tools to recognize and modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term form of therapy designed to help patients recognize underlying interpersonal issues. These issues can include unresolved grief, changes in social roles, and problems relating to others. IPT can teach healthy ways of expressing emotions and improving communication.
  • Psychodynamic therapy is based on behavior and mental well-being rooted in childhood and past experiences. It involves bringing unconscious feeling to conscious awareness. The goal of this therapy is to enhance self-awareness and change deep-seated patterns.
  • Supportive therapy utilizes encouragement and guidance to help patients develop their self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and strengthen coping skills.

Other therapies rural programs may use in combination with psychotherapy include:

  • Creative arts therapy, which uses art, dance, music, and poetry to express emotions.
    • Art therapy incorporates art, creativity, and expression as healing strategies for patients.
    • Music therapy uses music as a tool for healing and processing through music making, listening, singing, and dance.
  • Animal-assisted therapy uses animals to help bring comfort to people coping with trauma.
  • Play therapy is a form of counseling that helps children identify and talk about their emotions.

Medication Options

Prescription medications can help treat individuals with a mental health condition. There are different types of prescription medications available to treat mental health conditions, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, and antipsychotics. Medication may come in various forms, including pills, injections, or patches. Choosing the most appropriate prescription should involve assessing the effectiveness, availability, and affordability of the medication. Prescription medications should only be taken when prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner.

Many rural areas face barriers in accessing pharmacy services, including transportation barriers and pharmacy closures. Some barriers to pharmacy access may be overcome by using mail-order or internet services to obtain medications. Another treatment approach for overcoming barriers is using long-acting injectable medications, which reduce the frequency of visits needed.

Workforce shortages may also make it difficult to access psychiatrists and other professionals who can prescribe medication and evaluate its usefulness for individual patients. Telepsychiatry has been shown to be successful in overcoming access to care barriers in rural areas.

Overall Wellness Options

Rural programs should prioritize wellness when treating mental health conditions. Nutrition, exercise, stress management, and tobacco cessation play a crucial role in achieving and maintaining stability in individuals with a mental health condition. Many people with mental health conditions 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 problems, or vice versa.

Social prescribing is a way for primary care physicians to focus on the well-being of the entire patient. Social prescribing is a formal process in which primary care physicians connect patients, either directly or indirectly, to non-medical interventions for alleviating health concerns. These interventions may include activities to improve well-being like art classes or walking groups.

When addressing overall wellness, nutrition can play a role in mental health. Eating unhealthy foods, such as refined sugars, can adversely affect brain functioning, including the regulation of insulin and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Promoting intake of foods like fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like seeds, nuts, and legumes, can help boost mental health. To learn more about increasing access to healthy food in rural areas, explore our Rural Hunger and Access to Healthy Food topic guide.

Exercise is an essential part of wellness and should be considered when implementing mental health programs in rural areas. Exercise can lead to short-term relief and long-term stabilization of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. In some rural areas, there may be limited access to environments that support physical activity, such as communities that lack recreation centers. Rural communities can consider opportunities to integrate exercise into mental health programs. This may be as simple as incorporating daily walking routines.

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

Resources to Learn More

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