What’s Eating Rural America?

Mental Health in our Rural Communities (Part 1)

We are Northerners. We are small-town Americans. We come from hearty stock. Our backs are strong and our wills, even stronger. We don’t like handouts. We work. We live. We persevere. We are mentally tough and emotionally ready.

Or at least we’d like to think so.

Despite being far from the speed and the bustle of the city, regardless of our clean air and pristine water, even with our close-knit communities and disproportionately large numbers claiming faith, we rural folk are not immune to the stress of the modern-day world. We still fall prey to anxiety and all its many causes. We, too, suffer from the most common mental illness, depression, at levels nearly on par with our urban counterparts.

And in large part, we don’t seek help because we don’t think what we’re going through is serious enough, we think we can treat it ourselves or we believe it’s a personal weakness.

Mental health disorders affect around 500 million people worldwide, and 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year.

“Mental health disorder.”

“Mental illness.”

It sounds so clinical, so unemotional, and yet to better understand the impact of its reach into our world, perhaps some detachment is necessary at first. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, and major depression affects more than 16 million American adults each year.

Worst of all, mental illness still carries with it a stigma that keeps people from getting the help they need, especially in low-anonymity rural communities like ours.

The World Health Organization defined mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Some estimates put the cost of serious mental illness in the U.S. at $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Depression alone cost US business more than $31 billion due to disability, absenteeism, and productivity loss.

In the next three weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at mental health in our rural communities. It’s not a comfortable topic, but it’s critically important. Mental health issues affect people from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, economic status, or ethnicity. It doesn’t matter what our life situation is, we are all at risk at some point or stage in our life.

We are in large part an agricultural and factory-based workforce, and the impact of mental health problems in the workplace can have serious consequences, both for the individual and the business. Performance, rates of illness, absenteeism, accidents and employee turnover are all affected by one’s mental health. Based on a 28-year study, the Journal of Rural Health found that farmers are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than other occupations. And of all demographics, suicide remains the highest among male rural residents. Among our youth (ages 10-24), suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Mental health, at its worst, can lead to these sad statistics.

But rural communities at their best can rally around individuals and provide community support in times of need. Let’s start the conversation and keep it going. Over the next three weeks, we’ll look at what our area employers, schools, and medical providers offer our communities. We’ll look at organic, “DIY” options for the uninsured or those not wanting to pursue professional help. And we’ll tell some stories of overcoming or living with mental illness. All in hopes of lessening the stigma of one of the most common health problems in the US and indeed around the world.

We are Northerners. Compassionate, neighborly Minnesotans. Let’s not be afraid to talk about what matters.

Part 2: It Takes a Village to Raise an Adult

(Sources: US National Library of Medicine, Mental Health America, RuralHealthInfo.org, Minnesota Rural Health Association, Rural Health Information Hub, National Alliance on Mental Illness, World Health Organization)

(Published in the January 23, 2018 issue of the Warroad Pioneer in Warroad, Minnesota)

(Photo Cred: Mental Health Symbol Conceptual Design Stock Illustration – Can Stock Photo)


Author: Angle Full of Grace

A writer, woods-wanderer, and internal peace seeker who raises two free-range children in the wilderness, I escaped the wasteland of corporate America a few years back never to return. I write about love, family, mental health, addiction, parenthood and personal growth all through lens of place and connection to the land. Most entries are my weekly column for our local small-town newspaper, and there's an occasional feature story thrown in the mix as well.

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