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Rural Health Information Hub

Addressing Stigma in Program Implementation

In tight-knit rural communities, stigma around mental health and suicide is often heightened because of a lack of anonymity, particularly compared to urban areas. Stigma can be so great that some rural residents worry their help-seeking would negatively affect their family's reputation. Rural suicide prevention programs must address the stigma that exists around mental health and suicide in the community. One strategy is for communities to share information about services that offer greater anonymity — for example, telehealth and talk and text lines. Information regarding these services can be shared via local organization signage, websites, newsletters, and social media. Programs can work with schools, primary care practices, community centers, fire stations, and places of worship to disseminate this information.

When stigma is widespread in a rural community, it limits the utilization and impact of the local mental healthcare services. It is important for communities and local organizations to openly discuss mental health and normalize help-seeking behaviors. One strategy is for programs to develop and distribute educational materials about mental health. Examples of educational materials include posters, brochures, and other printed material. These can be placed in primary care waiting rooms and exam rooms to normalize mental health as a topic during a patient's visit. Primary care offices can also integrate universal mental health and suicide risk screening and intervention protocols to proactively discuss and connect patients to mental health services.