Examining Stigma and Mental Illness in Rural Communities


JOHNSON CITY (October 10, 2022) – The Center for Rural Health Equity Research at East Tennessee State University/NORC recently released a policy brief examining the burden of public stigma associated with mental illness in rural areas of the United States.

“Stigma is a widely recognized barrier to accessing health and mental health services,” said Dr. Kate Beatty, a fellow at the Rural Health Equity Research Center (RHERC) and faculty member at ETSU College of Public Health. “This policy brief, which is the first to be published by the center, documents the burden of public stigma associated with any mental illness in rural communities compared to non-rural communities in the United States.”

In 2020, ETSU/NORC’s Center for Rural Health Equity Research was awarded one of seven Center for Rural Health Research grants, awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau Federal Rural Health Policy.

“ETSU is a national leader in rural health research, and we are uniquely positioned to address complex and urgent health care challenges, such as the mental health crisis facing communities. across the country,” said ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland.

The brief examines differences in stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs by rurality, gender, race, ethnicity and age.

The key findings of the brief included the following:

  • Rural respondents had no more negative attitudes towards people with mental illness than non-rural respondents.
  • The female respondents had more positive attitudes on the items related to recovery and outcomes than the male respondents.
  • Younger respondents had fewer negative stereotypes compared to older respondents.
  • Although similar population dynamics associated with mental health-related stigma were observed among rural and non-rural respondents, stigma reduction efforts are particularly important in rural communities where access to health providers mentality is limited or non-existent.

“This brief helps highlight that rural populations are not generally more stigmatized than others around mental illness, but also notes that more work is needed to increase access to mental and behavioral health services for rural communities. said Dr. Stephanie Mathis. “As we continue to see positive trends related to reducing the stigma of mental illness, we need to find innovative ways to break down barriers to access in rural communities. »

The authors of the dissertation include ETSU College of Public Health faculty members Beatty, Michael Meit, Mathis, and Amy Wahlquist, as well as Justin Kearley, a 2022 graduate of ETSU’s Master of Public Health program.

“ETSU is committed to honoring our rural heritage, and the work the ETSU/NORC Center for Rural Health Equity Research is doing to address rural health challenges is important not only to our region , but also for rural communities across the country,” said Dr Kimberly. McCorkle, ETSU provost and senior vice president for academics.

The mission of the ETSU/NORC Rural Health Equity Research Center is to develop strategies and recommendations for policy makers, rural health care providers and rural communities to mitigate the individual and community impacts of substance use disorders (SUDs), improve access to health care and social services and improve population health. To learn more, visit etsu.edu/cph/rural-health-equity/.


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