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Behavioral Health in Rural Communities

Despite policy efforts, the number of people in the United Stated with unmet behavioral health (mental health and substance use) needs remains high. Approximately 13.1 million people (5.2 percent of Americans) had a serious mental illness (SMI) in 2019 (up from 8.3 million or 5.2 percent in 2008).1 Substance use disorders (SUDs) are even more common with 20.4 million people above age 12 having a SUD in the past year.2 Rural communities have been disproportionately impacted by certain behavioral health issues, with opioid use disorders being a prevalent—and deadly—example.

Such issues call for the development of tailored approaches to expand access to behavioral health care in rural settings. Promising solutions include the use of mobile health clinics, primary care integration and telehealth expansion.3 These and other innovations specific to the rural setting are needed to respond to the unique, and urgent, behavioral health needs of these communities.

1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001, NSDUH Series H-55). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

2 (SAMHSA). (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States.

3 Blanco et al. (2020). The American opioid epidemic in special populations: five examples.