Patrick County Hospital expanded to include psychiatric care

A potato farmer in Idaho, a miner in West Virginia, and a rancher in Texas—what could these three people possibly have in common? On the surface, the three workers listed appear very different in terms of geography, potential salary, and cultural upbringing, but they share a common theme. The mental health challenge is not limited to a specific subset of people; it touches us all. And especially in rural areas, the stigma of mental illness screams through the deafening silence of care-seekers.

A 2020 study by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that nearly 53 million — almost one in five — adults in the United States are living with a mental illness. Of those suffering from this disease, rural residents are more likely to a serious mental illness, with suicide rates among people in rural areas nearly double those in major metropolitan areas.

Mental health is essential to a person’s overall health. Unfortunately, some people do not recognize mental illness as a disease. What a person struggles with most can be perceived as a kind of chink in armor or inadequacy. Put simply, a mental illness is an illness—one that can be as devastating as cancer or heart disease. As with many other disorders, the sick person is not responsible for the illness they are facing. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness is coupled with the misguided and unfair shame that becomes an added burden for someone who is already suffering.

People in rural areas often have demanding blue-collar jobs that can be exacerbated by economic insecurity, weather vulnerabilities, and labor problems. The COVID-19 pandemic caused even more stress on these people’s social lives by disrupting their everyday routines. The inability to attend church services or meet friends for breakfast at the local diner led to an increased sense of loneliness. Despite all of this, men and women in these areas are less likely to seek help from a doctor to help them with their mental health.

One of the best ways we can address the health crisis in rural America is to build a better system of care for people with mental illness. Healthcare professionals and government officials need to better integrate mental health services with primary care to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get the treatment they need.

This is the driving force behind Foresight’s investment in Patrick County Hospital. For too long, individuals in the community have been neglected in the care they receive – particularly in mental health care. We strive to create an atmosphere where each individual feels cared for. Providing critical access to health care in an area where they are currently lacking is one of the first – and most important – steps in continually improving the health care system in Patrick County and Southside Virginia and restoring trust with residents who care may have felt forgotten.

Introducing systems that build trust between primary care providers and their patients, while providing critical support from a trained behavioral health practitioner, is a critical element in supporting rural communities. In a familiar setting, patients can benefit from a range of mental health treatment options. Providing medication, offering behavioral therapy, and having a mental health counselor follow the patient’s progress are tools to combat this ever-present struggle. Being at the forefront of technological advances and providing innovative solutions enables medical professionals to gain a foothold in potential treatment options.

It is imperative that the stigma of mental illness in rural areas is removed and that quality mental health services are provided to those living there. People with mental illness should not have to suffer in silence or feel alone. Our focus should start with opening up the conversation about mental illness, but it shouldn’t end there. To get through this crisis, we must also invest in proven health policies and start providing the help that so many people need. There are no silver bullets or magic words that will stop the problems we face; The healthcare industry has to make an effort. More Americans than ever are facing the reality of mental illness; Now is the time to reshape our communities and the future of mental health care in our country.

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