JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 10, 2022) – The East Tennessee State University/NORC Rural Health Equity Research Center recently released a policy brief examining the burden of public stigma associated with mental illness in the rural United States.
“Stigma is a widely recognized barrier to receipt of health and mental health services,” said Dr. Kate Beatty, a member of the Rural Health Equity Research Center (RHERC) and a faculty member in the ETSU College of Public Health. “This policy brief, which is the first brief to be released by the center, documents the burden of public stigma associated with any mental illness in rural versus non-rural communities in the United States.”
In 2020, the ETSU/NORC Rural Health Equity Research Center received one of only seven Rural Health Research Center grants, awarded by the Health Resources & Services Administration, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy.
“ETSU is a national leader in rural health research, and we are uniquely positioned to tackle complex and pressing 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 and ethnicity and age.
Key findings from the brief included the following:
- Rural respondents held no more negative attitudes towards individuals with mental illness than non-rural respondents.
- Female respondents held more positive attitudes on items related to recovery and outcomes than male respondents.
- Younger respondents had fewer negative stereotypes relative to older respondents.
- While similar population dynamics associated with mental health stigma were observed among rural and non-rural respondents, stigma reduction efforts are especially important in rural communities where there is limited or no access to mental health providers.
“This brief helps to highlight that rural people generally do not hold any more stigma around mental illness than others, 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 less mental illness stigma, we need to find innovative ways to address barriers to access in rural communities.”
The brief’s authors 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 that the ETSU/NORC Rural Health Equity Research Center is doing to address rural health challenges is important for not only our region, but rural communities across the country,” said Dr. Kimberly McCorkle, ETSU provost and senior vice president for Academics.
The ETSU/NORC Rural Health Equity Research Center’s mission is to develop strategies and recommendations for policy makers, rural health care providers and rural communities to mitigate the individual and community-level impacts of substance use disorder (SUD), improve access to health care and social services, and improve population health. Learn more at etsu.edu/cph/rural-health-equity/.