U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has cosponsored legislation granting money to providers of telemental health services, or online therapy, to cover a larger number of rural Americans.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the challenges and disparities in access to mental or behavioral health care in rural communities across Colorado,” Bennet said.
The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act would provide $10 million per year for four years to public or nonprofit networks of online mental health professionals to expand their operations to reach rural populations, and especially workers in the farming, fishing and forestry industries. The legislation notes that while mental illness occurs in rural and urban populations at the same rate, there are fewer resources in rural communities. Geographic isolation, perceived stigma and the lack of anonymity are barriers to preventing care.
Widespread firearm ownership can also contribute to a greater prevalence of suicide in agrarian or mountain settings.
In 2018, the Colorado State Office of Rural Health noted that in rural Colorado, the suicide rate was 62% higher than in urban areas. The farming, fishing and forestry industries had the highest rate of any sector. Mineral and San Juan counties had no mental health providers as of the report’s release, and 11 counties had no mental beds for patients.