Availability of mental health services needs to improve in rural areas

Contemporary OB/GYN JournalVol 65 No 12
Volume 65
Issue 12

Studies have shown that rural youth lack access to mental health services, but research is scarce on the availability of suicide prevention services in rural areas.

Researchers have found that rural areas have fewer mental health facilities that provide suicide prevention services to youth, despite higher suicide rates in rural youth.1

Suicide rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas2, and Americans in rural areas are more likely to die by suicide.3 Studies have shown that rural youth lack access to mental health services, but research is scarce on the availability of suicide prevention services in rural areas.

A recent cross-sectional study investigated the nationwide distribution of mental health facilities that offer suicide prevention services and primarily service youth. The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, highlight the need to improve the availability of mental health services in rural areas.

For the study, researchers used 2017 to 2019 data from the U.S. National Mental Health Services Survey and identified about 9,500 mental health facilities and whether they offered suicide prevention services, including suicide screenings, treatment for suicidal thoughts, and referrals for follow-up care.4

Related: How available are suicide prevention services in rural areas?

Using each facility’s zip code, the research team classified locations as metropolitan, micropolitan, small town, or rural. They also rated location on a scale of 1 (most urban) to 9 (most rural), based on county. The team then analyzed where youth had access to mental health facilities with a focus on suicide prevention services.4

Researchers found that highly rural areas had fewer mental health facilities that primarily served youth, and fewer suicide prevention services, than urban areas. Only 3% of rural areas had a mental health facility where youth could access suicide prevention services. When compared to 8% of metropolitan areas, 9% of micropolitan areas, and 12% of small towns, it is clear that access to mental health care in rural areas needs significant improvement.4



  1. Rural youth often lack access to suicide prevention services. NIH Research Matters. National Institutes of Health; November 10, 2020.
  2. Rural Health: Suicide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed January 12, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  3. Suicide rates for rural counties consistently higher than urban counties. News release. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 5, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  4. Graves JM, Abshire DA, Mackelprang JL, Amiri S, Beck A. Association of Rurality With Availability of Youth Mental Health Facilities With Suicide Prevention Services in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2021471. Published 2020 Oct 1. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.21471
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