Small town communities deal with their problems the way they see fit but the truth is, the stigma of mental health issues is more evident in smaller communities because of the closed environment.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why so many older adults with such issues forgo treatment in rural areas. The most common mental health issues for older adults in small communities are depression and anxiety.
These disorders affect up to 25% of that population. Instead of seeking professional help and adequate treatment, these persons will rather keep their issues under the rug. The Wake Forest School of Medicine researchers found this behavior rather interesting so they’ve made an effort to find out the main reason behind this behavioral pattern.
According to their findings, there are a couple of main barriers to seeking help and treatment:
- These persons believe they don’t need help;
- Most of them don’t know where to seek help;
- Most people find the distance to be the biggest problem;
- A majority of people with mental health issues don’t trust therapists or counselors with private matters;
- All of them fear the stigma in the community.
It’s that stigma, the feeling of shame, that poses an acute problem when it comes to people in small communities reaching out to receive proper treatments and address their mental health issues. Smaller communities include the relative lack of anonymity which increases the sense of something being shameful, such as having a mental health issue.
The problem of small communities
People who live in small communities have problems with seeking professional help to deal with their mental health issues simply because everyone in their small town will know about it, which makes them feel shame. That’s why most of them don’t take any steps to seek treatment but rather suffer in silence.
Therefore, people in small communities have a really hard time asking for help because they fear that their neighbors, friends, people they work with or buy groceries from will get to know about it. Furthermore, no one wants to be labeled in such an environment as mentally unstable.
Unfortunately, the majority of people tend to have negative opinions about people with mental issues simply because most of them don’t understand such issues and that makes them fearful. Then, most people with mental issues generally share the opinion that seeking help won’t do any good.
Just like those people who fear things they don’t understand, these people who need help are unaware of how the treatment could help them live productive, healthy and happy lives.
One of the biggest problems, aside from the stigma, is the general lack of proper mental health institutions and professionals in small communities. If there are mental health specialists, experts, and professionals in such communities, people would feel better about going to see them to discuss their problems and how they deal with their condition.
Unfortunately, most small communities don’t have the proper personnel to deal with such issues and people don’t have anyone to turn to. So finding a proper mental health provider is quite a challenge in rural areas.
How to solve these issues
Well, the first step towards addressing mental health issues properly in small communities is to provide adequate practitioners and institutions in rural areas. This is possible by involving students with interests in the field.
The preparation of rural practitioners might be a good start as these young professionals might make all that stigma go away by pointing out that there’s nothing peculiar in being anxious, depressive, or psychotic. Young people who come from small towns are the best candidates for potential future rural mental health professionals but there are also older adults that need to be involved.
The participation of older adults might just be what these small communities need to combat that sense of stigma. If older adults could see that there are people just like them with the same mental health issues, this might largely help get the necessary community support. The only thing is, you can’t reach older adults via public service messages on social media as that’s not their preferred channel of communication.
Organizing talks and public clubs or holding public information campaigns is a whole different thing. Then, there’s the nature of the illness that we need to take into consideration. Anxious and depressed people aren’t just going to seek help by themselves but if they can see that their need is evident, that’s where community support might play a crucial role.
In fact, the only way to solve the stigma surrounding mental health issues in rural areas is by organizing strong community support. If a certain community member is experiencing mental issues, the community could help in any way necessary, bring the necessities, visit and so on.
Speaking about such issues is also a good social awareness call as people need to be told about these things. Telling positive stories about people who recovered, about those who received the needed support and so on, might just be the push in the right direction that was needed.
If people with mental issues become aware that there is a solution to their problem, that there are professionals and institutions that provide the necessary medication, counsel, support, and care, they’re far more likely to actually seek help which is quite an encouraging thought.
When it comes to what small communities can do to help members deal with mental health issues, here are some helpful tips:
- Get community members to talk openly about mental health issues;
- Provide the necessary education for all community members;
- The way people speak about these issues greatly matters as they need to be conscious of the language;
- Physical and mental illness are equal and people need to understand that;
- Promote a sense of support and compassion for people with mental health issues;
- Shame needs to be replaced by individual empowerment.