Mental Health Disparities and Social Change in Rural America

In recent years, rural America has seen significant changes in the social and cultural dynamics of local communities. The decline in well-paid jobs in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors has led to higher rates of poverty in rural areas. These communities have experienced shifting demographics as many young adults have left to look for better opportunities elsewhere. At the same time, there has been an increase in immigrant and minority populations in these areas, making them more racially and ethnically diverse.

Meanwhile, many rural residents face significant behavioral health disparities compared with their urban counterparts, including higher rates of suicide and depression. However, the extent to which shifts in rural culture affect mental health and treatment-seeking behaviors is unknown.   

A November 2016 article, “The Changing Context of Rural America: A Call To Examine the Impact of Social Change on Mental Health and Mental Health Care,” emphasizes the need for research that investigates the impact of the changed social context on mental health. This article, published in Psychiatric Services, describes the importance of taking an anthropological approach to health services research. Strengthening knowledge in this area may help develop more patient-centered and culturally appropriate mental health services.