Accessing mental health care can be difficult, especially if you live in an area where there are very few mental health specialists. This can be particularly troubling in rural areas, which already have difficulty attracting medical and non-medical professionals due to lower salaries and higher cost of living compared to big cities. However, Illinois lawmakers have taken action by passing legislation that addresses the shortage of mental health practitioners in rural areas and makes it easier to renew the licenses and practices of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
Lack of accessibility in rural communities
Although more and more people across America are receiving mental health care, there are still millions of Americans who are not receiving treatment. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 90% of the nation’s licensed therapists practice in urban areas, and about 60% of all rural counties lack a single practicing mental health specialist. 2021 data from Mental Health America suggests that 57% of adults with mental illness receive no treatment and that over 26 million people with mental illness are untreated. Lack of access is one of the main reasons. This can be extremely difficult for those who live in rural areas or communities without much support nearby.
In addition, unemployment and lack of insurance are affecting rural areas at a higher rate, making it difficult for people seeking treatment unable to pay for the care they need. Unfortunately, rural Americans experience higher rates of depression and suicidethat make access to quality mental health care all the more important.
A report released by an Illinois Task Force on Behavioral Health identified that Illinois has a 480 to 1 ratio of population to mental health professionals in rural communities. In addition, this data recorded:
- 93.7% of rural hospitals are in designated mental health shortage areas
- 81 of Illinois’ 102 counties do not have child and adolescent psychiatrists
But all hope is not lost as lawmakers took notice and passed legislation in May 2022 to address the mental health shortage and increase access to high-quality mental health care. Geode Health in Westmont is one such mental health practice that reaches out to rural residents to let them know that licensed professionals are available to help.
What the new law provides
The new law, which was passed by bipartisan members of both houses, could help ease the shortages. The law provides financial assistance to healthcare professionals who work and practice in rural areas around Illinois. It expands eligibility for student loan repayment assistance, as well as where professionals who have received financial assistance can work, including private rural health clinics and hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid. This is an important step towards improving access for those in need of mental health care. More mental health services are expanding, such as Geode Health, which will soon serve the greater Chicagoland area and help alleviate shortages of medical professionals.
why it matters
The prevalence of mental illness is significantly higher among people living in rural areas and small towns than among those living in cities and metropolitan suburbs. Specifically, certain conditions such as depression and alcoholism are more prevalent in rural populations. The current economic environment also leads to an increased risk of depression and anxiety among people living in rural communities. Prior to the passage of this legislation, many states were forced to reduce mental health funding over time due to financial constraints. It is important to understand how these factors affect the most vulnerable populations in our country so that we can effect positive change.
This new law is a bold way to bring mental health care to rural counties that need it. Mental health care is often overlooked and underfunded, but it is just as vital as any other type of medical treatment. And although many people are aware of mental illness, there are still stigmas attached to it that keep people from seeking help. At Geode Health, we want to educate the communities in which we serve to overcome these stigmas and provide adequate resources to those who need them most.