COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri faces the largest shortage of behavioral health care providers in the U.S. Each of Missouri’s 99 rural counties is a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area, with just 3.7% of the recommended supply filled, says University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

That leaves an estimated 49% of Missouri’s population living in an underserved area, compared with 29% nationally, according to the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association. “This results in adverse mental health outcomes in agricultural communities,” says Funkenbusch.

Pervasive stigma and geographic barriers to accessing mental health care sometimes prevent those seeking behavioral health services for stress, anxiety and depression from receiving it in rural Missouri, she says.

Mental health challenges are not unique, says Funkenbusch. One in five people will experience mental illness during their lifetime. Between 2003 and 2017, the suicide rate among rural Missourians grew by 78%. Hospital emergency department visits for suicide attempts or ideation grew by 177%.

Those figures come from “Growing Stress on the Farm,” a study of expanding economic and mental health disparities in rural Missouri. The Missouri Coalition for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Missouri Department of Mental Health, Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Hospital Association and MU Extension worked on the report.

During May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, MU Extension, the Farm and Ranch Stress Alliance Network (FRSAN) and their statewide partners join the national movement to raise awareness about mental health. Together, they work to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, make referrals to teletherapy counseling and advocate for policies that support the millions of Missourians affected by stress, anxiety and mental illness.

MFA Foundation is another of MU’s partners that commits to support rural communities in need. “The MFA Foundation’s substantial four-year commitment will allow the expansion of teletherapy sessions and increased educational awareness in more rural communities,” says Funkenbusch. “This generous gift will assist in the creation of more resources and the development of a statewide mental health awareness campaign targeting one of Missouri’s most vulnerable populations.”

MU Extension and FRSAN have compiled a list of helpful resources for all Missourians in a free online publication called the “Mental Health Awareness Month Promotional Toolkit.” The toolkit provides credible resources and reliable resources to support the mental health and well-being of rural individuals, farmers, ranchers and their families in agricultural communities.

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