Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Church Role in Rural Mental Health

Church Role in Mental Health for Rural Communities

Isolation, individualism make mental health a sensitive topic for rural populations; churches and religious groups form a trusted core.

By Michael Holton,

Last month I wrote about the mental health aspect of living in small rural communities and the lack of mental health care. This is nothing new to the people who live in rural America, nor is it new to the mental health professionals. Why is this such a difficult topic to bring to the table?

As I have often pointed out, living in small rural communities brings with it a set of rural cultural values. Most individuals living in rural America hold stereotyped views regarding mental illness, psychotropic medication, or mental health care in general.

It is unclear why this stigma is more pronounced in rural areas, but factors such as insufficient resources, isolation, and the value of autonomy may lead to some answers. In farming/ranching rural communities, an overriding sense of individualism demands we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and solve our own problems.

The first aspect of addressing rural mental health is to make sure to address rural first and then mental health. Too often providers address mental health in rural areas as a subset of addressing mental health in general. This simply is not true.

On an urban or larger scale, the provider for mental health may well be the local, state, or federal government. This provides a barrier in rural areas, and distrust is prevalent. The outlet for relief can come from institutions that are already trusted.

Religious groups and churches form a fundamental core of unity and trust in small rural communities. Pastoral counseling is widely regarded as an alternative in mental health care and has been effective.

Churches can address rural mental health in a holistic manner and can reach several age groups in one setting. Where ethnic populations reside, trust becomes even more important, and the church can be the conduit in which rural mental health care can be provided.

Nearly 60 million rural Americans experience rates of mental illness. Many of these people rely on collaborative and cooperative efforts to help them cope. Next month we will look at how some community groups address rural mental health in their own communities.

for more information post a question or comment here or contact
John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    the lack of mental health professionals in rural communities also constributes to the stigma because there are few voices confronting the attitudes and inviduals creating the stigma in the first place - and, even with pastors and priests that are caring and considerate and progressive in their approach to mental health issues, there is no substitute for a mental health professional in a community.

  • At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think people living in a rural area are at a disadvantage when it comes to mental health.

    I think that there is a sterotype especially with men who have mental health issues such as depression as being "weak,"crazy" or "airing out their dirty laundry" if they seek the help of a clergy or medical professional.

    I think that cost is an issue. Many insurance companies do not pay for individual therapy and so cost is a concern. Also because there isn't several therapists or counselors to choose from, those professionals tend to charge more because of traveling expenses and things like that.

    I also think that living in a rural area there is a question of confidentiality and anominity.
    While I think that all professionals whether they are therapists or clergy, do not breach confidence in any way, and are just as professional as someone practicing in an urban area, I think that there is a fear that "they might say something". Your chances of running into these medical professionals on a daily basis are very likley and so its an uncomfortable situation for someone that is seeking help.

    I think that some of these issues do need to be addressed, because I think that mental health is a real issue in rural America. I think depression is very common in these areas because of the many challenges that rural Americans face every day.

  • At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It seems like the people commenting so far wonder if Churches and clergy are prepared to address the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in rural communities. I would agree, if Churches and clergy hope to fill the void in rural mental health they must find a role in making mental health care less of a social issue for those seeking care.

  • At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that churches and clergy are appropriate in some instances to talk to about certain situations and issues, but I don't feel that they are qualified to deal with mental health issues appropriately.

  • At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hate to say it, but in many rural communities Church folk can be some of the most judgemental about personal issues - including mental health issues, perhaps especially mental health issues.

  • At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Amen! Isn't it amazing how true that is?

  • At 3:16 AM, Anonymous flowers said…

    best site


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