Rural mental healthcare challenges and solutions

80% of Minnesota counties are dealing with a shortage in mental health professionals and rural behavioral services face a hard hit in this shortage.
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 4:58 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Over the past few years, federal legislation continues to fund and expand rural healthcare across the country. But some legislators, like U.S. Senator Tina Smith, want to aid mental health services in rural areas amid a nationwide provider shortage.

“There’s not enough mental health professionals at a time in which the mental health challenges in rural and outstate Minnesota to have literally never been worse,” said Thad Shunkwiler, Minnesota State University Mankato Associate professor & director Center for Rural Behavioral Health.

80% of Minnesota counties are dealing with a shortage in mental health professionals and rural behavioral services face a hard hit in this shortage.

“Part of this is just increasing demand because I think we are in many ways experiencing a crisis of mental health in our country right now. It was partly caused by the pandemic, But, I think it was there before and partly this is about mental health care providers who’ve been in the field for many years and they’re ready to retire,” said Minnesota Senator Tina Smith.

To combat the crisis, U.S. Senator Tina Smith reintroduced a bipartisan bill to support students in mental health services by providing student loan forgiveness up to $250,000 for graduates looking for operation in rural areas.

“Rural and outstate Minnesota face a greater number of mental health challenges at the same time when they have a more difficult time and accessing services. So, programs like this are a great step forward in growing the behavioral health workforce in rural and outstate Minnesota,” said Shunkwiler.

Smith added, “The goal is to be able to not have that financial burden of the tuition and cost of that education get in the way of people seeking that career that we really need more people to follow through on these days.”

“We’ve had federal funding to reimburse student loans for a number of healthcare professions. But, this is the first that it’s exclusively looking at the mental health professional work force. So, it’s not new- it’s a tried and true concept- but it’s exciting to see that it’s singularly focusing on the mental health workforce,” added Shunkwiler.