We can reduce stigma surrounding mental health

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

What contributes to mental health problems in rural areas? According to a recent poll conducted for the American Farm Bureau Federation, it’s uncertainty about jobs, the economy and farm profitability; unpredictability of the weather; isolation; and stigma surrounding mental illness and seeking treatment.

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Many of those problems are out of our control at the local level, but one of them we can definitely do something about: stigma.

According to the poll, two-thirds of rural adults said stigma about seeking mental health services has some or a lot of impact on farmers’ mental health.

“They are such hard workers struggling but the lack of awareness in these kind of communities is enormous,” reads one quote from the survey. “… They feel there is no one to turn to and no resources where they will be understood.”

We hope things are somewhat better than that here in Boyle County, where community members have actively taken on the task of promoting good mental health and reducing stigma as part of an effort to end the opioid drug crisis. The recently completed community resource directory, available at developdanville.com, is one way the community is making sure people can find what they need to improve their lives.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

More than 40 percent of rural adults in the poll identified three improvements they believe would be “very effective” in helping address stress and mental health:

• increasing mental health training for doctors;

• increasing access to mental health treatment programs; and

• being able to discuss mental health issues with my primary care physician.

When the poll results were narrowed to just farmers, those remained the top three for effectiveness.

“Public education surrounding resources to improve mental health” was also rated highly, with 34 percent of rural adults saying it would be very effective and another 37 percent saying it would be somewhat effective.

There’s definitely a problem out there to address — almost half (48 percent) of rural adults said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. And 40 percent say stress and mental health have become bigger problems across their community over the past five years (almost half of the survey respondents said they didn’t know or had no opinion; only 13 percent said mental health is less of a problem now).

Boyle County is blessed with better access to health care and higher numbers of doctors per capita than most other counties in Kentucky, as well as numerous active and engaged individuals and groups working for the betterment of the whole community. Hopefully, we are already in a good situation to address mental health needs and continue pushing stigma out the door.

We must continue to do good work and embrace our neighbors who have fallen on hard times or gotten themselves into trouble. We must see beyond the harmful labels that can be applied quickly and without thought to the complex and valuable people underneath — people who are just like us.