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Rural areas have fewer mental health services for young people, but great need

Very rural areas in the United States have fewer mental health services for young people, yet that’s where the help is needed the most, says a study led by Janessa Graves of the Washington State University College of Nursing, published last week in JAMA Network Open.

Previous studies have shown that the suicide rate among young people in rural areas is higher than for urban youth and is also growing faster, said Graves, associate professor and assistant dean for undergraduate and community research.

Yet by one measure, using ZIP Codes, only 3.9% of rural areas have a mental health facility that serves young people the study found, compared with 12.1% of urban (metropolitan) and 15% of small-town ZIP Code Tabulation Areas.

Measured by county type, 63.7% of all counties had a mental health facility serving young people, while only 29.8% of “highly rural” counties did.

Closeup of Janessa Graves
Janessa Graves

“Youth mental health is something that seems to be getting worse, not better, because of COVID-19,” said Graves. “We really need these resources to serve these kids.”

While Graves’ study focused on suicide prevention services offered in mental health facilities, “even less intensive services like school mental health therapists are lacking in rural areas,” she said.

Concluded the study, “Given the higher rates of suicide deaths among rural youth, it is imperative that the distribution of and access to mental health services correspond to community needs.”

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