One morning, as I was tossing and turning in my sleep, I rolled over and hit my head on the lovely metal bed rail that was given to me. With blood drizzling down my face and neck, I had to make an unexpected 6 a.m. visit to the emergency room.
Upon my arrival, the nurses asked me if I have had any thoughts of intentionally harming myself or if there was any abuse in my household. I awkwardly answered “no” to the series of questions, but it made me think. If a similar incident happened to me while I was back home in Western Nebraska, I don’t think I would have been asked the same questions; the topic of mental health would be completely glazed over.
From what I have noticed, mental health in smaller, rural areas is not regarded as something important. From my own personal experience and from my peers’ experiences, I can tell there is a stigma when it comes to talking about mental well-being, which can stem from several things. But mental health should be talked about, regardless of who you are or where you come from.
One of the biggest issues is that there is a lack of medical professionals that specialize within these capacities. More than 60% of rural Americans live in areas where there are little to no mental health professionals, and more than 90% of psychologists and psychiatrists work in metropolitan areas. For those who have lived in metropolitan and heavily-populated areas for most of their lives, finding a mental health professional may be easy. In places like Scottsbluff and Gering, where I grew up, it’s more difficult to come by someone with that sort of expertise.
Not acknowledging mental health, in general, is dangerous. In 2018, the second leading cause of death of 15- to 24-year-olds was suicide. Suicide is something that is preventable, and there are proper steps to acknowledge this fact. Mental health and physical health coincide. Not recognizing your mental well-being will also hinder your physical well-being.
In regards to lifestyle, those who suffer from depression may not be the most inclined to maintain a healthy diet or a consistent workout routine. Most people do not link the two together, but they’re basically inseparable.
This lack of acknowledging mental health is something that is especially prevalent when it comes to boys and men. The notion of “man up” is really forced upon our society and results in boys and men not showing emotions. From my own experience, it’s tough being able to come forward and say something when it comes to my mental health because I have been taught to not talk about it; several of my male peers have as well. Additionally, it’s tougher to come forward in a more conservative area of the country. In 2018, the suicide rate for males ages 15 to 24 was 22.7%, which was significantly higher than the rate for females, which stood at 5.8%.
So what can we do to not only erase the stigma of talking about mental health but also better rural communities so they have the resources to properly help those who are suffering from mental illnesses?
The biggest solution is implementing mental health professionals in rural America. There’s been such a shortage ever since the Eisenhower administration in the late 1950s.
60% means roughly 196,943,714 Americans that do not have access to the proper healthcare for mental health.
Another way that we can help erase the stigma of mental health is normalizing and starting conversations that are based on mental well-being. We must also acknowledge that mental health and physical health are linked together. It’s really important that we take the time to acknowledge these facts because it could potentially save someone’s life.
The questions I was asked in the emergency room were questions that should be asked by every healthcare provider and those questions should be normalized. While it was not super relevant to my situation, it still speaks volumes when there are people that are in the best interest of you and your mental health.
Adam Flowers is a freshman music education major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.