SAINT JOHNS, Mich. — "You're not alone."
The phrase is heard often when talking about mental health, but the 1.47 million Michigan adults with mental health concerns, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, it can be hard to accept that truth. It can be even more isolating when getting access to mental health care is a challenge in and of itself, as is the case in many rural areas of the state.
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Lara Coughlin, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of the University of Michigan's Addiction Center in its Department of Psychiatry, said there are many challenges with getting access to mental health care in less populated areas.
First of all, Coughlin said, stigma can be a major barrier to care.
“So, feelings that other people in the community will know about something that is stigmatized," she explained. "And some people may not want their neighbors or friends to know that they’re going into care.”
Second, transportation can be automatically harder in rural areas where homes are further from businesses. It can be a much longer trip to the doctor's office if you live in a rural area, and mental or behavioral health care might require more visits than a physical check-up.
Third, some rural areas simply do not have many mental health care professionals or staff.
“Sometimes there might only be a couple in an entire county,” said Coughlin.