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National Recovery Month 2017: Focusing on Access to Care in Rural Areas


September is National Recovery Month, sponsored annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Recovery Month is intended to raise awareness of mental health and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover.


This year’s theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities, and one particular focus is on people living in rural areas. About one-fourth of the U.S. population lives in rural areas.

While overall rates of mental health problems are similar in rural and urban/suburban areas, people in rural areas face several challenges relating to mental health care.


Rural areas have significant ongoing shortages of mental health professionals. More than 65 percent of rural Americans get their mental health care from their primary care provider. More than 90 percent of all psychologists and psychiatrists work exclusively in metropolitan areas

An estimated 60 percent of rural Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. The map below shows areas designated as mental health professional shortage areas by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The darker color (higher score) indicates a greater need for mental health professionals.


People in rural areas often travel further to receive services. For some, a one-hour appointment can require a day-long excursion. They are also less likely to have insurance for mental health care.


People in rural areas often lack a choice of providers and few programs train professionals to work effectively in rural places. The stigma around needing or receiving mental health care creates a formidable barrier to care for many, especially in rural areas.

Improving Rural Mental Health Care

Communities and states are addressing these issues in many ways. For example, a mental health center serving a rural area in Michigan closed its outpatient clinics and relocated staff to family medicine clinics across the area. This change made mental health services more accessible and led to more referrals, fewer missed appointments and cancellations and reduced cost of operation.

Telehealth, providing care from a remote location via video conference, is also helping bring mental health care to rural areas. A telehealth partnership in Oregon between primary care providers, community mental health centers and the Oregon Health Sciences Hospital provides psychiatric consultation and is helping increase access to psychiatric care.


A state hospital in Wyoming provides transport services for people needing hospital care and deploys staff psychiatrists and others to primary care offices, nursing homes and community hospitals across the state. The Farm Resource Center in Illinois recruits professionals and paraprofessionals with farming and rural backgrounds to work as outreach workers. They provide short-term crisis support, information and referrals.

Recovery Month Events

Recovery Month local events and activities are being held across the country, such as

  • Recovery Resource Open House in Falls Church, Va.
  • A 5K Recovery Walk in Gary, Ind.
  • Recovery Celebration and Walk for Recovery in Boise, Idaho
  • Mental Wellness Workshop in San Bernardino, Calif.

Find local events in your community.



AnxietyBipolar DisordersDepressionOCDEating DisordersGambling DisorderAddictionPTSD


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