Strengthening rural mental health care

A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) found that suicide and drug overdose death rates are higher in rural areas of the United States than in urban areas.

Lack of mental health care is the main reason.

More than 60% of non-metropolitan counties have a shortage of psychiatrists, and nearly half of counties have no psychologists.

“Mental health is important. It’s one of the invisible diseases,” said Antron Williams, a first-generation farmer in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina. “Access is always more of a challenge than increasing urban centers.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report, Achieving Behavioral Health Integration in Rural America, promotes the integration of primary care services with mental health and substance use treatment in rural America.

“We’re trying to meet people in rural areas,” said Kendall Strong, senior policy analyst for the BPC Health Program and author of the new report. “They often refer behavioral health problems to primary care clinicians, and we need primary care providers to be able to provide behavioral health treatments. ”

Strong said rural integration means more partnerships for primary care providers.

“Providing them with additional training or providing access to additional behavioral health providers who can discuss patient needs and medications such as buprenorphine that can be prescribed for opioid use disorder is really important. Please try to claim it,” said the medical expert.

“It could be a one-stop-shop kind of thing, or it could be ‘killing two birds with one stone,’ as the saying goes in this country,” Williams said.

The report offers four key focus areas:

  • A broad policy at the federal level that lays the foundation for integrated behavioral medicine
  • Efforts to support the rural integrated care workforce
  • Modified payment and delivery systems to help rural providers overcome integration barriers
  • Focus on specific needs for rural integration, such as those of veterans, tribal communities and individuals with high behavioral health, to provide more coordinated services.

“Our goal is to promote the health and well-being of individuals, including those in rural America, through all of our activities,” said Julia Harris, Associate Director of Health Programs at BPC. “It makes sense to integrate behavioral health into primary care. “With these recommendations, we can make great strides in improving the lives of people in rural America.”

The BPC also recommends “the increased use of telemedicine, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, and new investments to ensure the delivery of integrated care in rural America.”

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