How technology can help address mental health challenges in rural America
With SHI Healthcare, you can confront the digital divide for a healthier tomorrow
Rural America, often celebrated for its strong community bonds and traditional values, is grappling with a deepening mental health crisis.
Over 60 million Americans — roughly 20% of the population — live in rural areas, and 37 million live in areas with mental health professional shortages. Across the U.S., 570 counties lack any mental health providers.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reveals that 65% of rural counties lack a psychiatrist, nearly half are without a psychologist, and 81% don’t have a psychiatric nurse practitioner. But numbers only tell part of the story.
Behind each statistic is a person, a family, and a community struggling to find answers in areas where resources are scarce. So, the questions that loom large are: why is this happening, and how can we address it?
The depth of the problem
The mental health crisis in rural America isn’t a sudden phenomenon. It’s a culmination of systemic challenges that have persisted for years. The lack of professionals in these areas is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many residents, even if they recognize their need for help, often confront economic barriers. Without proper insurance or financial means, accessing care becomes a distant dream.
Moreover, the tight-knit nature of small communities can sometimes be a double-edged sword. While they often provide a strong sense of belonging, they can also foster a stigma around mental health. In such environments, admitting to mental health struggles can be daunting, for fear of judgment or misunderstanding from neighbors and friends.
The global pandemic added fuel to an already burning fire. As the world grappled with the virus’s physical health implications, the mental toll became evident. Schools, often the first line of defense in recognizing youth mental health challenges, reported a surge in students seeking help. An Institute of Education Sciences (IES) study revealed that 69% of public schools saw an increase in students seeking mental health assistance after the pandemic’s onset. Disturbingly, only 56% felt equipped to address this growing need.
Confronting the digital divide
Technology can help bridge the gap in mental healthcare. But the digital divide complicates things.
Residents of rural communities often have limited access to affordable and reliable broadband internet. Almost 30% of rural Americans don’t have internet in their homes.
The lack of dependable internet connectivity in rural areas isn’t just a technological issue; it’s a barrier that hampers access to essential services, including mental healthcare. The potential of telemedicine, which promises timely consultations without the need for long drives or waits, remains largely untapped due to this digital divide.
The solution isn’t merely about infrastructure but also ensuring access to hotspots and essential devices like laptops and tablets. Affordability is another hurdle, with many residents in these areas struggling to pay for basic services like internet. The sparse populations in these areas further deter service providers from stepping in.
Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted strategy that guarantees no part of America remains digitally isolated.
This is where we can help.
How SHI can address this crisis
SHI Healthcare, which encompasses a congregation of visionary healthcare leaders, adept system architects, and shrewd healthcare strategists, offers patient-centered healthcare solutions tailored to power and secure even the most intricate infrastructures. Through a holistic approach, SHI Healthcare ensures real-time connected healthcare that spans the entire breadth of care, from patients to clinicians, staff, and health systems.
SHI Healthcare is committed to data accessibility. Our solutions, enveloping data centers, networking, cloud services, unified communications, and end-user workspaces, are designed to allow caregivers to securely access vital patient, business, and clinical data systems. Whether it’s from a remote clinic in a rural town or a major hospital in the city, the goal remains the same: improving responsiveness and outcomes.
But it’s not just about connectivity — SHI Healthcare takes a proactive stance on cybersecurity, providing strategies and solutions to protect patient and organizational data. In essence, SHI Healthcare isn’t merely a vendor but a strategic ally vested in steering your mental health telemedicine endeavors toward unparalleled success.
Funding the way forward
While the problem is significant, hope is on the horizon.
Each year, several grants are made available for rural healthcare providers to address these challenges. Deadlines vary, often based on your region, but here are a few to look out for:
- Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant: Enhances access to healthcare in remote regions via telecommunication technologies, making it ideal for telehealth and telemedicine mental health initiatives. Historically, applications open in December and close at the end of January — you can learn more by watching our DLT webinar available on demand.
- Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) Rural Healthcare program: Supports rural healthcare providers through funding for telecommunications, broadband services, and network equipment, ensuring that medical care becomes accessible and affordable for rural communities. Here’s more on the timeline for this program.
- Community Facilities Grant: Helps develop essential community facilities in rural areas. An essential community facility is defined as a facility that provides an essential service to the local community for the orderly development of the community in a primarily rural area. Grant funds can be used to construct, enlarge, or improve community facilities for healthcare, public safety, and community and public services.
SHI’s Grant Support Program plays a pivotal role here. We not only help identify relevant grants but also guide providers through the application process. Additionally, thanks to our partnership with the Grants Office, we can ensure that the process of identifying and coordinating potential grants is seamless.
Empowering rural communities for a healthier tomorrow
The mental health crisis in rural America is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention. The digital divide only exacerbates these challenges.
Yet, while the obstacles are significant, some solutions are right in front of us.
By leveraging technology and securing essential funding, we can bridge the gap and ensure that every individual, no matter where they reside, has access to the care they need. Together, we can build a future where mental wellbeing is prioritized and accessible for everyone.
Learn more about the SHI Grant Support Program and get your customized grant report started today.